POLITICS

Feds, Quebec in tit-for-tat fight over gun registry

06/13/2012 05:38 EDT | Updated 08/13/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - While the Quebec government succeeded at keeping the gun registry alive just a little longer in the province Wednesday, the federal government made yet another move to bury it.

A judge ordered the long-gun registry temporarily maintained in Quebec until he decides whether or not the province has a legal right to the data.

Legal arguments will continue Thursday in a case that pits the Harper and Charest governments against each other on whether the province can keep Quebecers' gun data after the federal registry is detroyed.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the Conservatives have found a new way to thwart future attempts to save the registry. They announced changes Wednesday to the Firearms Act so that businesses would no longer be required to collect and keep point-of-sale data for long guns.

The federal government has balked at handing over the data and has told Quebec to start its own registry from scratch if it wants one.

The federal law to destroy the registry came into effect in April everywhere else in Canada but, in Quebec, the long-gun registry has continued to function under court order. Wednesday's court order was the fourth time a Quebec judge has extended the life of the registry in the province.

The federal government's lawyers did not consent to the extension of the order on Wednesday, but did not oppose it either.

The province has said it is not trying to keep the federal registry alive, but wants the data it has collected over two decades and has argued it would be too expensive to replace the federal data. Quebec says it has a constitutional right to the date — a notion federal lawyers are opposing.

The bill to end the federal long-gun registry, C-19, received royal assent on April 5, fulfilling a long-standing promise by the Harper government.

In their most recent move, the Harper Tories on Wednesday said businesses would no longer be required to keep the information that identifies the buyer of a non-restricted firearm — namely long-guns.

The government said the move would stop any potential attempt to re-create the federal registry.

"Our government has successfully passed legislation to scrap the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry once and for all," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a statement.

"The regulations we are proposing under the Firearms Act will ensure that a long-gun registry will not be created through the back door and the will of Parliament is respected."

Quebec is the only jurisdiction that has sought to keep information from the registry. The movement to create the gun-control measure was inspired by the Montreal massacre in 1989.

The registry has remained operational in Quebec thanks to several injunctions obtained by Quebec until a ruling can be made on the merits of the case. A judge will render a written decision at a later date, once arguments are complete.

The case has been called a first in Canadian legal annals and will likely weave its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.