The opposition bench: as we were saying…

by Paul Wells

So a Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled that the federal government must hand over data from the long-gun registry to the Quebec government. The decision, which I will now read, is here, in French.

I am reminded that last month our Andrew Stobo Sniderman wrote a story (perhaps at my suggestion) pointing out that the biggest political debates, leading most frequently to political defeats for the Harper government, have been happening in court — Insite, securities regulator, minimum sentences, and more. Now the long-gun registry too.

There is a substantial body of Conservative lore to the effect that of course this sort of thing would happen, as the courts and an elaborate extra-judicial apparatus are out to get Conservatives. Here’s some reading on that topic. Stephen Harper himself described a similar worldview when he saidafter an Ontario judge’s ruling on same-sex marriage in 2003, “They wanted to introduce this through back channels. They didn’t want to go to the Canadian people and be honest that this is what they wanted. They had the courts do it for them. They put the judges in they wanted, and then they failed to appeal, failed to fight the case in court.”

One way to fix this sort of thing would be to appoint friendlier judges. And here comes Vic Toews now. An excerpt from the public safety minister’s statement on today’s ruling: “I am disappointed with today’s ruling and will thoroughly review the decision… We do not want any form of a wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.”

But it’s a tricky thing. The judge in today’s Quebec gun-registry decision was appointed by the Harper government in 2007, as were two of the Supreme Court justices who have joined in unanimous decisions that made trouble for the government.

 

 




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The opposition bench: as we were saying…

  1. “…. leading most frequently to political defeats for the Harper government, have been happening in court — Insite, securities regulator, minimum sentences, and more”

    The State is Liberal and it’s why Liberal Party is superfluous. We don’t need Lib Party when we have bureaucracy and judges imposing their Liberal values on everyone.

    • And the Media! OMG, don’t forget the media!

      • That’s why you wont see any media types getting their bums on the bench – no judge Wells in our future, somewhat sadly. Maybe not altogether a bad thing though – God forbid we should ever get a judge Duffy.

    • Clearly, Harper needs to remove the law from his Law and Order agenda.

    • Well.. at least you made it to the bottom of the second paragraph.

      Pity you were unable to have an attention span that reached the last paragraph, or you might have tried to read, “The judge in today’s Quebec gun-registry decision was appointed by the Harper government in 2007, as were two of the Supreme Court justices who have joined in unanimous decisions that made trouble for the government.”

      • Clearly they were LIBERAL Conservative judges. Or, perhaps there are things in the world that matter more to them than pleasing PMSH. Like their own reputations, for example.

  2. Appointing judges to get the results you want is the hallmark of a very different system than democracy. If the government doesn’t like the law change the law.

    • They already did change the law

      • I can’t speak to details because I haven’t read the registry case but there’s no law parliaments working together couldn’t enact. If the “problem” is legislation rewrite the legislation. If the “problem” is one of the parts of the constiution that can be overridden unilaterally, then admit you’re violating the constitution and make your changes (this would work for mandatory minimums and ending gay marriage). Other stuff like division of powers or national securities regulator, get enough provinces on board for a constitutional amendment.

        Won’t do any of those things? Quit your whining.

        • In fact, I’m now wondering how many of their losses the CPC could change just by using the notwithstanding clause. Except the national securities regulator, almost all of them I think (Insite, mandatory minimums…)

  3. Okay, so according to the courts it is against the law to destroy data when the provincial government of Quebec wants the data.

    But when Alberta wanted to opt out of the
    gun registry, the court said they couldn’t because it is a federal program and Alberta
    couldn’t opt out of collecting data from Albertans.

    But when the
    federal government wants to cancel the program and destroy the data, then Quebec and other provinces can force the federal government to keep the data collected?

    Now I’m no lawyer, so I perhaps need a little guidance here to understand the issue properly. Can someone explain how these two interpretations square with each other, and the what these judges were basing each decision on?

    • A provincial judge from Quebec has said the Federal Government has to hand over the information to Quebec.
      Alberta being denied an out of the registry was, most likely, by a federal judge.
      Two different courts with different jurisdiction.

    • I haven’t read either but if you go to Mr. Wells twitter account he recommends another feed from Paul Daly. Until today’s decision is available in English, it’s where I intend to start on hte matter.

    • The collection of the data was a federal initiative under federal jurisdiction, using federal money. That’s why Alberta could not opt out.

      The feds started the program; the feds can end the program. They did; Quebec is not trying to force them to continue. Had they tried, they would have been in the same boat Alberta was in when it tried to opt out. What they are asking for is somewhat different.

      The question now is about the data collected. As the government belongs to its citizens, can the government destroy the data if its citizens want to retain it?

      The people of Quebec, as represented by their provincial government, say they want the data that is about them retained and handed over to the province. The data is about them; the data was collected purportedly on their behalf; the data was paid for by them via their federal taxes.

      So in short, the first legal decision was about whether the feds could collect the data in a province where the provincial government did not want it collected. This decision is about whether the people of a province get to have a say as to the disposition of data collected about them by the federal government once the feds no longer want the data.

      • Interesting. Is ON still thinking of making a similar case in court? Now we have a precedent things could get very interesting indeed. What can Harper say really? He claims to support strict separation of Federal and provincial responsibilities. That’s one dilemma i’d like to see him get horny over.

      • But wouldn’t it be also the case that since the government belongs to the citizens, then they could opt out as well? What about representatives of the ridings where the Conservative party won federally in Quebec? Can they opt out of having information collected about them? Or individuals?

        I mean, I can understand provincial governments starting a registry from scratch, but the compulsion of the provincial government on the federal government in this sphere seems baffling.

        If people truly have a say about information collected about them on their behalf, paid for by their taxes, presumably they could opt out of having data collected about them, whether represented by the province or otherwise.

        • I don’t really have an opinion on the rightness or wrongness of either decision. I’m just trying to point out how the questions are different and thus could result in decisions which, at a glance, seem contradictory.

          With different questions and thus different facts, evidence and laws to weigh, things which seem interrelated to us lay persons can lead to drastically different legal decisions.

          • That actually does help, thanks. So what role does precedent play in this. Does the Quebec court judge have to consider the prior case that was before the Supreme Court, and what weight does it have in his own decision?

      • Your argument makes no sense.

        The citizens of Alberta wanted to opt out, but you say the data is only a federal jurisdiction, so the province has no say.

        The citizens of Quebec want to keep the data, but you say the data is not just a federal jurisdiction, the province has a say.

        Give it up.

        • No. Provinces don’t get to ignore any federal laws they don’t like (ie. Alberta and the registry), nor is Quebec seeking to do so.

          • Yes they are, that is exactly what they are seeking. They are seeking to ignore the federal law that stated the gun registry will be abolished and the data destroyed, bill C19 that was passed in April.
            Give it up.


            TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS

            DISPOSITIONS TRANSITOIRES

            Destruction of information — Commissioner

            29. (1) The Commissioner of Firearms shall ensure the destruction as soon as feasible of all records in the Canadian Firearms Registry related to the registration of firearms that are neither prohibited firearms nor restricted firearms and all copies of those records under the Commissioner’s control.

            29. (1) Le commissaire aux armes à feu veille à ce que, dès que possible, tous les registres et fichiers relatifs à l’enregistrement des armes à feu autres que les armes à feu prohibées ou les armes à feu à autorisation restreinte qui se trouvent dans le Registre canadien des armes à feu, ainsi que toute copie de ceux-ci qui relève de lui soient détruits.

            Destruction des renseignements — commissaire

            Destruction of information — chief firearms officers

            (2) Each chief firearms officer shall ensure the destruction as soon as feasible of all records under their control related to the registration of firearms that are neither prohibited firearms nor restricted firearms and all copies of those records under their control.

            (2) Chaque contrôleur des armes à feu veille à ce que, dès que possible, tous les registres et fichiers relatifs à l’enregistrement des armes à feu autres que les armes à feu prohibées ou les armes à feu à autorisation restreinte qui relèvent de lui, ainsi que toute copie de ceux-ci qui relève de lui soient détruits.

            Destruction des renseignements — contrôleurs des armes à feu

          • All relevant records can certainly be furnished to Quebec and all records in the Canadian Firearms Registry can be subsequently destroyed.

          • That’s breaking the law. All records must be destroyed according to the law. Handing them over to someone else is not destroying them.

          • I don’t see anything there that precludes records being provided to Quebec before those copies of those records under the Commissioner’s control are destroyed.

          • Then you don’t know how to read. Destroying records means destroying them. If you give them away they are not destroyed.
            But as long as you’re on this bizarre, irrational and illogical bent, maybe you could think about how you’d like it if your bank records were handed out to other companies just after you closed your account but before being deleted from the bank’s systems. According to your fantasy, the records have been destroyed so there’d be nothing to complain about, it doesn’t matter who the heck was given a copy as long as the bank no longer had a copy. Apparently you think that’s perfectly legal. Maybe I could just walk into your bank and ask for a printout of your records, sounds like you don’t care.
            Destroying a record doesn’t mean destroying the paper it is printed on. It means getting rid of the data, which specifically precludes handing the data over to someone else.
            I’d like to presume you’re not a complete idiot, and I’d like to presume you’re not a totally dishonest partisan, but as far as I can tell you’re both, so I’ll remember your name and ignore you from now on.

          • What’s bizarre is your attempt to compare an involuntary system (gun registry) with a voluntary one (bank account), not to mention there’s no issue of public access (could you walk into a government office and get a printout of my gun records?).
            When Quebec creates a gun registry, Quebecers will be required to produce those very same records the Feds are destroying, whether they get them from the Feds or not.

          • ‘Give it up’ – is that a legal term? Honestly, did you not read what the Harper appointed judge ruled – that the Feds don’t have the right to unilaterally destroy Quebec’s records. If you are appealing, that is what you need to address.

  4. “There is a substantial body of Conservative lore to the effect that of course this sort of thing would happen, as the courts and an elaborate extra-judicial apparatus are out to get Conservatives.”

    Man, the rule of law is annoying. Just gets in the way!

  5. So If I read between the lines (or even read you directly), this is a wheels within wheels setup of the Judicial system by Mr. Harper to be able have the courts impede their ideological style of governing by preventing them from doing something that they really didn’t want to do but promised their base they’d do and can now blame ‘activist’ judges for? Machiavellian.

    • Don, I don’t think we need to go there. It’s simply a recognition that the government wants to do many unconstitutional things, has pledged to do many unconstitutional things, but also recognizes that courts will probably prevent them from doing most of the unconstitutional things they want to do.

      It’s not something that only affects Conservative governments, or indeed only the federal government. Sometimes, you want to do something of questionable legality, so you try it.

      • sometimes you try it?
        All times Canada must be a democracy with the rule of law.

    • Oh I am loving that.

  6. Friends of the Court: The Privileging of Interest Group Litigants in Canada

    Ian Brodie

    Well Brodie would know a thing or two about privileging politics over good policy.

    • Remember they cancelled the court challenging program as soon as they formed government.

      • True…but i was thinking about his GST mea culpa

    • I’m pretty sure that book mentions the term “judicial activism” at least once per page and “the rule of law” not at all. Even more questionable work than his mentor Morton, it’s politically fringe and legally bunk.

      • The irony being that sorta makes the judicial activist promoters seem like a special interest grievance group themselves.

  7. A question: how useful is this data? At this point, it’s somewhat dated and thus somewhat (how much?) obsolete. And, what would be the cost to Quebec of re-creating it from scratch? And, given that it is somewhat dated, and thus an effort will have to be made of getting new owners to register, how much less expensive is that than making an effort to get all owners (including those that were in the national registry) to register.

    I would imagine re-creating from scratch costs more than litigating all the way to the SCC (where I suspect this is headed), but is that actually the case? I’m wondering about this because AFAICT the original registry was basically useless at crime prevention (since you have to be licensed to own a gun anyway), and only ever so slightly useful as a crime solving tool. It seemed to have been mostly political theater. Which begs the question of whether this fight is just more theater.

    Since I’m not a gun owner (and have never touched a gun in my life), I don’t have any skin in the game, but I do find just about everything about the registry (starting with its cost) fascinating.

    BTW, I live in Vancouver where gang related shootings are an all too common occurrence. I can only wonder how many more innocent civilians being killed it will take before as much zeal is put into doing something about this very real problem.

    • You do have to be licensed. But believe it or not you don’t have to register any sale of non restricted firearms[basically rifles] with the original registrar[ the guns are still registered after purchase]. Basically second hand transfer details are left up to the owners discretion. This most likely to be a problem in remote areas but not exclusively.
      Registering of long guns is also a useful for the police as a suicide prevention tool – again i would assume particularly in remote communities.

      • The resale situation does sound like a legit concern as it would make it easier for unlicensed people to acquire firearms, which is in nobody’s interests. So I’d accept that a LGR could have a positive impact here.

        However, I have a hard time with the suicide prevention argument for a couple of reasons:
        1) A long gun as a suicide tool would have to be unwieldy and error prone in the “f***, I shot half my face off but I’m still alive” kind of way. It’s not hard to think of other ways to accomplish the task which would be easier to implement, less likely to fail, and more peaceful as well. So, I can’t see it as being anywhere near a first choice.
        2) I’d guess the people most likely to spot a potential suicide victim are relatives and close friends, and these people may (yes, only “may”) have a good handle on how many guns such a person would have.

        Perhaps I’m missing something here as I don’t know what the mechanics would be of relieving a potential suicide victim of his firearms. But I’d imagine that if the authorities have to be involved (which is what you’d think is the case, if the person is unwilling to hand over his guns) then doing a search for guns (and other potential suicide tools) would be done regardless of the existence of a registry (keeping in mind said person would have a gun license as a tip off). Again, I don’t know what the mechanics of this would be, so perhaps I’m way off base.

        • I believe the RCMP occasionally seize weapons[ almost certainly rifles/shotguns]in remote communities,particularly in the arctic. This is a precautionary measure against suicide or potential domestic violence situations. I wouldn’t say that justifies an intrusive registry or if it is even of much use in such a situation. Still, it is puzzling that the police chiefs were so adamant that the registry was a useful tool. One thing has always puzzled me, if they can simply check the license data why do they need a registry. I suspect that somehow the licensing data is not always available when it is most needed. You would think this would be an obvious first fix before setting up a registry. I wonder if it doesn’t all come down to the Canadian disease – is it a provincial or federal responsibility.

    • About as useful as the most recent census.

      Where do you get your stats that the gun registry was useless for crime prevention? I expect their from the same place as my stats that police sirens are useless for crime prevention. That is, there aren’t any. After all, it’s not like the cops are gonna be going, “Wow, this case had me stumped.. then I remembered the gun registry and that solved the whole thing!”

      The registry was simply another tool the police had available to them. To suggest that unless we can track specific crimes solved to specific uses of the registry then it must have been useless is simply wrong.

      • I have no stats and in fact qualified my beliefs with an AFAICT.

        At any rate, I’m all for evidenced based policy, so if actual hard evidence can be provided for the usefulness of the registry, then so be it. Otherwise, my “AFAICT” is as good as anything else.

        Like I said, I’m not a gun owner, and I actually don’t care that much one way or the other what the fate of the long gun registry is. I’d just like to see some non-hysterical arguments for and against it as both sides are totally guilty of making it either
        a) the only thing preventing full blown gun violence on every street corner, or
        b) a nazi-inspired program designed to turn law abiding citizens into common criminals.

        AFAICT, it is nowhere close to either of these and that just makes the amount of time, energy, and money spent on trying to create/save it or trying to eliminate it simply ludicrous.

  8. I’ve heard Quebec officials tell us they share authority with the federal government. If so, that means the people of Quebec also share. In other words, they share the authority they follow. Because the two authorities are in conflict, the people would seem to be free to choose. Hmmm… I guess the term “free” is what might give Quebec heartburn.

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