Quebec to get gun-registry data, court rules

A Quebec Superior Court judge has granted a permanent injunction blocking the federal government from destroying the province's portion of the gun registry.

Judge finds 'exorbitant' encroachment on provincial powers in federal bid to destroy records

A judge has granted a permanent injuction forcing the federal government to keep collecting long-gun data in Quebec until it can turn it over to the province to create its own registry. (CBC)

A Quebec Superior Court judge has granted a permanent injunction blocking the federal government from destroying the province's portion of the long-gun registry.

In a decision released Monday, Superior Court Judge Marc-André Blanchard voids two sections of the Conservative government's legislation to scrap the registry and orders it to hand over all records on Quebec-owned guns to the provincial government within 30 days. 

The ruling upholds an earlier temporary injunction — granted to Quebec in April, on the same day that the bill to kibosh the gun registry passed into law — that prohibited the federal government from proceeding with the destruction of the data.

The federal government will have to keep registering Quebec long guns and recording transfers of ownership until it hands over the database to the province.

What Ottawa must preserve

Superior Court Judge Marc-André Blanchard ruled Ottawa must keep long-gun records that meet any of these criteria:

  • Originate in Quebec.
  • Pertain to Quebec residents or people in Quebec.
  • Pertain to any person ever involved in a firearm incident in Quebec.

Blanchard writes that a portion of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act "impinges in a very substantial way, even exorbitantly, on provincial powers, and there is no rational or functional justification or any necessity to do so."

The federal and provincial governments co-operated to create the registry, which gives Quebec the right to access its share of the data, he says.

"The text of the forms to apply for a firearms licence, a possession licence and an acquisition licence, and to register a firearm, as well as the privacy protocol and the relevant agreements between Canada and Quebec, establish that the registry's records are not strictly 'federal,'" the decision says.

"It follows that Quebec can get the records."   

The RCMP's firearm registration form, for instance, explicitly states that "federal, provincial or territorial legislation relating to access to information and privacy" applies.

No word yet on appeal

Blanchard's decision strikes down Section 11 of the act, which would have allowed a long-gun owner to sell their firearm without registering the transaction, and Section 29, which mandated the destruction of all long-gun records. 

Why a Quebec court?

Commenters on CBC's website have wondered why a Quebec judge can rule on the federal law abolishing the gun registry. It's simple: Provincial Superior Courts decide federal law all the time, on matters ranging from the Criminal Code to the Constitution. Superior Courts have what's called "general jurisdiction" to hear all legal matters not specifically assigned to other courts, and their judges are federally appointed. The Federal Court's jurisdiction is restricted to matters like intellectual property, income tax and immigration.

The judgment only applies to the Quebec portion of the database. Quebec wants to establish its own firearms registry.

The case is expected to end up in Quebec's Court of Appeal, though federal ministers said Monday they are studying the ruling before deciding whether to launch a challenge. If the Conservative government fails to get the decision overturned there, it could appeal it to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The NDP's Françoise Boivin, the opposition justice critic and a Quebec MP, warned that would "waste taxpayers' money." Pursuing an appeal to the top court in the land could take years.

"Experts have sided with us, the police have sided with us and now it's the Superior Court's turn," Boivin said in a news release. "These records are an important public safety tool. Conservatives must stop politicizing this issue and start putting public safety first."

Quebec justice minister happy to have 'won fight'

The Quebec government was among several entities that were elated at Judge Blanchard's decision.

Outgoing provincial justice minister Jean-Marc Fournier said in a statement he was "very happy that Quebec won the fight," adding that "Quebec's long-gun registry's data and its functions will be preserved in the province."

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier, who is leaving office following last week's election, said the province is 'very happy' that its share of long-gun data will be preserved. The incoming Parti Québécois government is expected to keep up the Liberals' efforts to create a provincial registry. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

He pointed out that the province's stance on the registry is shared with many police organizations, health and public safety groups and families of people who fell victim to tragedies that took place in Quebec.

The federal long-gun registry was created in the wake of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, in which a misogynist gunman shot and killed 14 women, mostly engineering students. 

Attempts by the Conservative government to abolish it have been in the works for years. The Ending the Long-gun Registry Act finally passed in the Commons on Feb. 15 and the Senate on April 4. It received royal assent and became law the next day. 

Quebec had argued it was unconstitutional for Ottawa to delete the regional data, because the registry was a dual provincial-federal undertaking that crossed jurisdictional lines. Ottawa's position was that Quebec had the right to create its own database but could not use the information available in the federal one.

Quebec also argued that the destruction of the registry would be "unfair" to taxpayers, who contributed to creating it.

Hope for other provinces

The Coalition for Gun Control said it hopes other provinces will be inspired by Blanchard's decision to take up the fight to preserve their portions of the registry.

"The decision of the court reaffirms the fact that the data on guns is useful, that the province which contributed to collecting it is entitled to keep it and that it is in the interests of public safety to maintain it," the coalition's president, Wendy Cukier, said in a news release.

The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto, which provides counselling and legal support to women who have been abused, is also challenging the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act in court and in the meantime is seeking an injunction to stop the destruction of data, similar to the one that was granted in Quebec. The clinic's case, which is being supported by the City of Toronto, will be heard in Ontario Superior Court on Sept.13.

National policing organizations are also in favour of the registry. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Police Boards all say that the registry helps officers prevent and investigate crimes.

According to the RCMP, 7.8 million firearms are registered in the database, 90 per cent of which are non-restricted firearms.

Vic Toews, Canada's public safety minister, said he was disappointed with Blanchard's decision.

The "will of Parliament and Canadians has been clear," he said Monday, and people do not wish to contribute to "any form of a wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry."

Judge Marc-André Blanchard's decision (in French)