Quebec ponders provincial gun registry

Quebec is considering the idea of having its own long-gun registry if the federal government scraps the current version.

Quebec is considering the idea of having its own long-gun registry if the federal government scraps the current version.

Public Security Minister Robert Dutil told The Canadian Press that civil servants are considering a so-called "plan B" — a provincial registry — if the Conservatives deliver on their promise to ditch the federal one.

"Certainly the people in the department have been told to look at all possibilities and to see how we could react to any number of circumstances," Dutil said in an interview.

But the priority remains convincing the Tories that the registry should be kept alive, Dutil said. Keeping the pressure on Ottawa is a task that lies with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau.

The federal government reiterated in its throne speech last month that it wants to end the16-year-old registry.

"For the moment, there is still a [federal] law, no bill has been tabled, so we haven't seen the contents," Dutil said. "But we think we have good arguments for keeping  the long-gun registry."

The Quebec government has long supported the registry. During the 2008 federal election campaign, Premier Jean Charest urged the parties to maintain it and reinforce gun-control regulations.

Introduced by Liberals in 1995

Quebecers have been solidly behind the registry, which was introduced by the federal Liberals in 1995. Dutil said the Quebec government's position hasn't changed.

But what has changed is the balance of power in Ottawa.

Last September, with a Conservative minority government in power, MPs voted 153 to 151 against a private member's bill aimed at axing the registry.

A Conservative majority would have no problem eliminating it.

"It's a big change and we have to be realistic and consider this possibility," Dutil said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during the recent federal election campaign that the money spent to keep the registry running is unjustified and that it punishes law-abiding gun owners.

The Conservatives argue the database carries incomplete and unreliable information.

But supporters counter that it is an essential tool for law enforcement and contend that it saves lives.

Dutil said several questions must be considered: Does the registry have a positive effect on reducing crime? Reducing suicides? Do police use the registry? Is the registry used in solving a wide range of crimes?

"The answers are yes," he said.