Quebec gun registry data handed over to Federal Court

Quebec's long gun registry records have been delivered to the Federal Court and sealed, pending the outcome of legal challenges that now appear destined to take months to resolve.

Judge Luc Martineau ordered hard drive handed over by 10 a.m. Tuesday, RCMP complied

Social activist Bill Clennett sought and obtained a protection order in Federal Court Monday, forcing the RCMP to hand over a hard drive with all Quebec's long gun registry data by the next morning. Arguments began Tuesday in the information commissioner's court challenge of the omnibus budget bill's retroactive provisions allowing the destruction of documents. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and the RCMP complied with a Federal Court order Tuesday, meeting a deadline for handing over all Quebec gun registry data. 

Judge Luc Martineau had given the government until 10 a.m. to deliver an external hard drive to the court — effectively issuing a vote of non-confidence in government assurances that all the remaining long-gun registry records would be preserved while court challenges continue.

The hard drive was wrapped in a bubble envelope and delivered to the Federal Court office in downtown Ottawa at approximately 9:15 a.m. The gun records have been sealed, pending the outcome of more legal challenges that now appear destined to take months to resolve.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault launched a constitutional challenge of the retroactive gun registry provisions buried in the Harper government's latest omnibus budget legislation. 

C-59 received royal assent late Tuesday afternoon. The law retroactively grants amnesty to anyone involved in document destruction, backdating the changes to 2011.

On Tuesday, a Superior Court judge in Ottawa transferred Legault's case to a three-judge Divisional Court panel in Toronto, after receiving written assurances from federal government lawyers that no more documents would be destroyed or shielded from access-to-information requests.

​The destruction of disputed records in 2012 led Legault to issue a report this spring accusing the Mounties of violating the Access to Information Act. The Ontario Provincial Police are now investigating the allegation.

The RCMP destroyed long-gun registry records from every province and territory except Quebec, despite an ongoing investigation by information commissioner Suzanne Legault and a written promise from the public safety minister that the Mounties would preserve the data until Legault's inquiry was resolved.

In a special report to Parliament last month, Legault asserted that the sweeping, retroactive immunity in the budget bill would capture not just registry data but all records related to the destruction. The budget bill, moreover, backdates the immunity to October 2011 when the bill to kill the long-gun registry was introduced in Parliament.

That amounts to a "black hole" that rewrites history, she said.

C-59 only applies to registry data?

Legault called the retroactive move in the face of an alleged crime a "perilous precedent'' that could be used to retroactively absolve and cover up electoral fraud, expense scandals or other serious crimes.​

Not so, government lawyer Robert MacKinnon told the court Tuesday.

The new bill is not meant to capture documents other than the old gun registry data itself, he said — a critical point that had not been publicly expressed through several weeks of argument and controversy.

At Dearden's insistence, MacKinnon agreed to put that in writing as part of the agreement to transfer the constitutional challenge to Ontario's Divisional Court, where it may not be heard for months.

In Quebec City, the Quebec government welcomed the preservation of the provincial registry records, but said it will go ahead with its own registry whether or not it ever sees the old, sealed data.

"We will not wait for this data before tabling our bill this fall," Jean-Philippe Guay, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Lise Theriault, told The Canadian Press.

"If the data is available, we'll take it. But we don't know in what shape it will be."

Last March, the Supreme Court ruled against Quebec's bid to take ownership of the provincial registry records, saying in a split decision that Parliament had the power to order their destruction.

That's the one point federal Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney continually stresses.

"The will of Parliament has been clear on multiple occasions; all copies of the obsolete registry are to be destroyed," Blaney's spokesman Jeremy Laurin said in an email Tuesday.

"While complying with the order of the court, we will always stand up for law-abiding firearms owners."

With files from CBC News

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