Ottawa has a duty to fight Quebec gun registry court order

September 19, 2012

CALGARY, AB, Sep 19, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Before legislation to scrap the long gun registry – a Conservative campaign promise that was fulfilled last April – was even introduced in the Senate the Government of Quebec wanted to get its hands on the Quebec part of the data to establish its own registry.

Upon the legislation being enacted, Quebec immediately launched a court challenge to stop the data affecting more than 1.5 million long guns registered by Quebeckers from being destroyed.

Last week, Quebec won the first installment of its court challenge. A Quebec court ordered the federal government to surrender the data within 30 days. Ottawa announced on Monday that it will appeal the ruling.

The legislation, Bill C-19, stops lawful owners from having to register long weapons; it also relaxes requirements around selling or transferring them. It is not an abandonment of federal responsibility over criminal matters. Firearm licences and the registry for restricted and prohibited firearms such as pistols are still required.

Those who favour preserving the registry’s data involving Quebeckers typically appeal to three arguments. Ironically, the first, but perhaps most valid, is a constitutional argument once used against the creation of the federal registry. According to Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard, the feds must not invoke jurisdiction over criminal law to overstep the provincial power (over property). ‘We have here an abusive use of criminal-law jurisdiction to encroach onto a domain of provincial jurisdiction,’ Blanchard said. But it’s a bit late for that. The Supreme Court originally blessed the federal registry on account of its federal criminal jurisdiction. Blanchard wants to have the constitutional cake and eating it.

The second argument is about saving money. Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said that Quebec should be given the data it paid for. But paying for something in matters such as this doesn’t entitle one to have them. We cannot demand ownership of Canadian Forces equipment because we pay taxes any more than Alberta could demand ownership of . . ., well, so much in Quebec.

Finally, there is a sad sense that governments make legislation strictly to honour people. Allan Rock was so successful at marrying the legislation to the 1989 Montreal massacre that some misguidedly wish to keep it, seeing the law as a memorial to the victims.

None of these are convincing arguments.

Besides compelling the federal government to hand over what they have, the Quebec court decision also forces it to keep registering long guns and recording transfers of ownership for Quebeckers until such time as it fully submits the database to the province. Blanchard’s respect for constitutional jurisdictions cuts one way only. While he wishes for Ottawa not to impose on Quebec, he is just fine with Quebec imposing on Ottawa.

It’s true that our constitution grants provinces jurisdiction over property, which is why we register our dwellings and our vehicles through provinces. In fact, forcing Quebeckers to register their long weapons with a provincial authority is not unconstitutional. But nowhere does it say that the feds have to help them. Not unlike in fiscal matters, Quebec is claiming autonomy but wants to force the help of those they claim autonomy from in the same breath.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a firm believer in strong provincial rights. But he also believes in individual rights. While the Quebec Government is the government of Quebeckers, as long as it remains in Canada the Canadian Parliament has a duty to protect its citizens residing in Quebec. Should Ottawa willingly help Quebec impose greater controls over those Canadians?

Quebec typically seeks to tax, register and control most areas of life. Quebec compels all housing leases to expire at the same time, forces women to keep their maiden names for the sake of tracking them better, follows citizens throughout their lives by compelling the usage of student numbers long after they have left the school system, demands state permission to name one’s child, forces people to post public commercial sign outdoors exclusively in French, and demands a special permit to send one’s children to school in English. It so mothers its people that it even runs an outdoors network, providing camping services with all the equipment, including tents.

Ottawa should have no part in the cuddling and controlling of Canadian citizens to such an extent, to say nothing of violating their privacy. It cannot stop Quebec from doing what it does, but it has no obligation to help.

Ottawa has a duty to fight the court order.

Marco Navarro-Genie is the vice president of research at the Frontier Centre (

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