Quebec Ponders Legal Action Over Gun Registry Records
Quebec hasn't ruled out legal action if the federal government's long-gun registry records aren't handed over before they're destroyed.
"We will use every means at our disposal, which we deem useful, to let Quebec's point of view be known," Premier Jean Charest told reporters Thursday.
"We are analyzing the means at our disposal to ensure that Quebec's point of view be properly heard."
The federal government introduced legislation earlier this week that would scrap the federal registry and destroy the millions of records on gun owners already collected.
The province needs those records to set up its own registry because starting from scratch would be costly.
Quebec’s National Assembly passed a resolution Thursday calling on Ottawa to hand over the records.
In a rare showing of unity, the governing Liberals and opposition parties unanimously agreed on the resolution, tabled by the Parti-Quebecois's Stephane Bergeron.
“Quebecers have paid nearly a half billion dollars,” Bergeron said of the tax dollars that went into the federal records.
He said that should be a high enough price to be able to keep it.
Quebec has long supported the long-gun registry. It was created in the wake of the mass shooting at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, which claimed the lives of 14 women.
The federal government has remained firm that it will not hand over records to the provinces.
Federal industry minister, Christian Paradis said it's out of the question to let a province continue indirectly in what the government has promised to eliminate.
The Privacy Act forbids collecting personal data for one purpose then transferring it to be used for another purpose, the government has argued.
The data has been gathering dust and is now out of date anyway, the government says, alluding to the lack of enforcement of the registry.
In Friday's question period, Quebec NDP MP Françoise Boivin accused the Conservative government of "destroying a key tool for keeping our communities safe" and of "playing politics with public safety."
"Why is the government insulting provinces that want to create their own registry?" Boivin asked.
Candice Hoeppner, the parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who has been the face of Conservative efforts to scrap the registry in recent years, maintained that to end the registry, the data must be destroyed.
"The long gun registry is the data," she said. "The data is flawed, it is inaccurate, it does not target criminals and it does target law-abiding Canadians."
Hoeppner reminded the House that the gun licensing system will continue, and law enforcement agencies will still have that information to work with.
Some of Charest's political opponents are urging him to immediately file a request for a court injunction to prevent the records' destruction.
The encouragement to act quickly was fuelled by the Harper government's move to limit debate on the registry bill –which is being fast-tracked through the House of Commons.
For now, Quebec's premier is relying on public debate as his forum to fight for keeping the data.
Charest called the federal government's determination to destroy the data "unacceptable.""Common sense says if the data exists, it's there, it could help save lives and we should preserve it," he said. " There’s no reason to destroy it." TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SCRAPPING THE GUN REGISTRY:
What does this new bill on the gun registry do?
We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>
What exactly is the registry?
It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.
Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?
No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.
What are long guns?
There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.
How many guns are we talking about?
As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.
Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?
The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.
Who wants to keep it?
Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.
When will the registry cease to exist?
The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.
Why does the government want to destroy the records?
The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.
How much does the registry cost?
The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.