MONTREAL – Quebec’s bid to create a provincial long-gun registry – seemingly a given not long ago – is being met by grassroots opposition from those who want the government to abandon the initiative.
The province tabled a bill last December aimed at setting up its own log three years after the Conservatives abolished the federal database for non-restricted guns, known as the long-gun registry.
But after unanimity among Quebec lawmakers on the proposal, some politicians are starting to have cold feet.
Members of the Parti Quebecois and the Coalition for Quebec’s Future have acknowledged caucus strife on the matter and there are reports the governing Liberals have their own divisions. There are even rumblings about a seldom-used free vote on the matter if it the bill gets that far.
The caucus rifts seem centred on a rural-urban divide _ one that registry detractors are trying to capitalize on with protests targeting specific riding offices.
Watching eagerly from the sidelines is the national gun lobby, which is admittedly concerned about the repercussions of a Quebec registry.
Canada’s National Firearms Association has lent its support to the Quebec movement calling for the bill to be abolished. The group is called ‘Tous contre un registre quebecois des armes a feu,“ which translates loosely as ”All Against a Quebec Firearms Registry.“
“Hunters and sport shooters from all the provinces have their eyes on Quebec,” said Francis Tenta, a Quebec representative for the National Firearms Association. “If Quebec moves forward with this gun registry, all other provinces will look at it and some may be tempted.”
Guy Morin, vice-president of the Quebec group, says a few donations have come in from Western Canada and that some Ontario gun owners were set to join a weekend protest in Maniwaki, Que.
“They know if it passes in Quebec, they might be next,” said Morin, who argues there isn’t as much support outside Montreal for a registry.
He advocates spending the money on mental health and says Canadian regulations pertaining to the licensing of weapons are sufficient.
“For the past 25 years, people who’ve favoured a registry and stricter controls have been ignorant about the rules that exist,” he said. “The money must be invested in the right place. For 25 years they put the focus on the weapon and it was a fiasco (federally), both in terms of money and in terms of registration.”
Gun-control advocates counter that a majority of Quebecers want a registry and that licences aren’t enough.
Heidi Rathjen, a spokeswoman for PolyRemembers, says the cornerstone of effective weapons control is to hold gun owners accountable for what they possess.
“You can’t have gun control if you’re not controlling the guns,” Rathjen said.
“Without registration, you make it a lot easier for guns to fall into the wrong hands because gun owners aren’t accountable for their guns.”
Quebec has often been cast as being more bullish about gun-control legislation than anywhere else in the country, partly because of major mass shootings such as the Montreal Massacre in 1989.
The move to create a provincial registry was lauded by public health organizations, women’s groups and law enforcement and Rathjen says there were no signs of cracks.
That said, she isn’t surprised by the gun lobby opposition.
“It’s the same scenario playing out on the provincial level that played out on the federal level,” she said.
Gino Marra, an anti-registry hunter and sport shooter, says law-abiding gun enthusiasts feel compelled to take a stand.
“I think most of the hunters and sport shooters are fed up being targeted as a threat to public safety,” Marra said.
That refrain was heard often during the contentious federal long-gun debate and many elements of that battle are being transposed to Quebec.
Opponents argue the registry might end up just as costly as the defunct federal one.
Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal government says it will cost about $17 million to start and $5 million yearly to operate.
The province fought a protracted legal battle against Ottawa in a bid to preserve the Quebec data from the federal registry, which was eliminated in 2012. It ultimately lost at the Supreme Court.
For his part, Couillard has said he doesn’t see what the fuss is all about.
“I have two hunting rifles at my house,” said the premier, whose own riding is partly rural. “I’m not at all traumatized by the fact of having to register them.”
A petition calling for the bill to be scrapped has garnered more than 36,000 signatures and is expected to presented in mid-March.