Feds win latest round in legal fight against Quebec over gun registry

MONTREAL – A Quebec court has sided with the Harper government: It says the province has no right to the federal long-gun registry data.

Quebec’s highest court has ruled against the provincial government, which is trying to save data for that province from being destroyed.

In its verdict, the Quebec Court of Appeal also ruled that the provincial government should pay the court costs for the case.

“Quebec has no property right in the data,” said the 14-page verdict.

“The data does not belong to Quebec, and the provinces have no control over it… The Parliament of Canada, which considers the data at issue to be pointless and inefficient and believes that its existence in a registry infringes the right to privacy, can certainly decide to stop compiling and preserving that information.”

The verdict marks the latest round in a legal battle over an emotional topic in Quebec, where the fight for gun control intensified in the wake of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre.

The long-gun registry was scrapped in the rest of Canada last year but remains operational in Quebec following a series of injunctions safeguarding the Quebec data and ordering the registry be maintained while the federal-provincial battle plays out in court.

The bill to end the federal registry received royal assent in April 2012, fulfilling a longstanding promise by the Harper government.

In Quebec, where there has traditionally been a strong current of support for gun control, the provincial government has fought back by launching a legal battle.

Opponents of the registry called it wasteful and irrelevant in stopping crime. Its supporters, however, including some police organizations, described the registry as a valuable tool in law-enforcement’s arsenal.

And Quebec has argued that it needs the data to support its own gun registry — making it the only province to announce its intention to do so. The province has argued it would cost too much to start the registry anew.

Lawyers for the federal government have argued that if Quebec wants a registry of its own, it should start from scratch.

The Conservative government has vowed to fight to ensure the registry data is destroyed.

Lawyers for both sides have called the case a legal first in Canada. Since the battle started, lawyers have said they expect the issue to wind up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Thursday’s verdict says it was “clearly inappropriate” for a lower court, in a ruling last year, to compel the federal government to maintain the Quebec share of the registry.

It quoted a recent Supreme Court ruling that said that as popular as “flexible federalism” might be, it “cannot sweep designated powers out to sea, nor erode the constitutional balance inherent in the Canadian federal state.”