Quebec fights final battle to preserve to long-gun registry data

Quebec could have its own provincial gun registry in 45 days, according to the province's legal counsel.

Lawyers representing Quebec say a bill to create a provincial registry is in the works

A rifle owner checks the sight of his rifle at a hunting camp property in rural Ontario west of Ottawa, Sept. 15, 2010. The Canadian Sports Shooting Association has launched a national petition that asks Ottawa to establish a single "civilian agency" in place of provincial and territorial firearms officers that oversee licensing and other gun regulations. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Quebec is making its last arguments to the country's highest court in its bid to preserve millions of records on long guns owned by residents of the province.

Quebec wants to set up its own provincial long-gun registry and could do so in as little as 45 days, according to the province's lawyers. 

Eric Dufour told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the province is planning to introduce such a bill in the National Assembly.

He said the broad strokes of the legislation to be tabled have already been developed and that there could be a gun registry in place as early as two months from now. But first, the province wants the data collected by the ill-fated federal registry.

Ongoing legal battle

Quebec has been fighting since 2012 to preserve the records for an estimated 1.6 million firearms. The federal government abandoned the registry and started destroying data collected in 2012.

The government said at the time it wouldn't hand over its records because it didn't want to assist any other jurisdiction in create a registry using the existing data, which it deemed to be old and inaccurate.

The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in June of 2013 that it would not force the federal government to preserve the information. The province then took its case to the Supreme Court. 

Dufour argued before the nine judges Wednesday that the unilateral decision to destroy the registry data was "contrary to federalism."

But the lawyer representing the federal government said that information does not belong to the provinces.

The lawyer representing the Crown, Claude Joyal, argued the constitution allows the government to act unilaterally on the issue.

Some advocates for gun control drove from Quebec to Ottawa to hear the arguments before the Supreme Court.

"These are entirely ideological decisions," said Marc-Antoine Cloutier, director of the Quebec-based legal clinic Juripop.

"The destruction of this data is only intended to seal the debate in Canada and Quebec forever. We strongly disagree with it."

Advocates and opponents watching closely

Heidi Rathjen,spokesperson of Polysesouvient, a group that supports the registry, is calling for the federal government to rely on the opinions of experts, which are 'unanimous in their support for the registry'.

Opponents of the registry attended the hearing.

The vice-president of the Canadian Association of Owners of Firearms, Shawn Bevins, says the Quebec government's position is at odds with the political will of Quebecers.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard the province's position on the gun registry data has not changed. 

"We repeat: the data is fundamental. We want to get the data. The registry is important. The safety of people is essential. However, caution should be exercised. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled," he said on Wednesday.

The court is expected to rule in the coming months.