POLITICS

Long-Gun Registry: Harper Government Wins Latest Legal Battle Against Quebec

06/27/2013 11:29 EDT | Updated 08/27/2013 05:12 EDT
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MONTREAL - The Harper government has won the latest round in its battle to delete, once and for all, the last remaining portion of the federal long-gun registry.

Quebec's highest court has ruled against the provincial government there, as it fights to keep data for the province from being destroyed as it has elsewhere in Canada.

In its judgment, the Quebec Court of Appeal said the province has no right to the registry data. It also ordered the provincial government to pay the court costs for the case.

"Quebec has no property right in the data," said the 14-page ruling, released Thursday.

"The data does not belong to Quebec, and the provinces have no control over it... The Parliament of Canada, which considers the data at issue to be pointless and inefficient and believes that its existence in a registry infringes the right to privacy, can certainly decide to stop compiling and preserving that information."

The long-controversial registry could, in theory, be completely destroyed in two weeks. The ruling said the federal government must wait that long before deleting the Quebec data.

But the provincial government quickly announced that it intends to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to consider the case. It has also filed a motion to keep an injunction in place in that maintains the registry in the meantime.

The federal government expressed its satisfaction at Thursday's news.

In a three-sentence statement reacting to the ruling, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said his Conservative government was proud to stand up for farmers and hunters "unlike Justin Trudeau's Liberals and Thomas Mulcair's NDP."

The judgment was the latest round in a legal battle over an emotional topic in Quebec, where the fight for gun control intensified in the wake of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre.

The bill to scrap the federal registry received royal assent in April 2012, fulfilling a longstanding pledge by the Harper government.

Opponents of the registry called it wasteful and irrelevant in stopping crime. Its supporters, however, including some police organizations, described the registry as a valuable tool in law-enforcement's arsenal.

Quebec has argued that it needs the data to support its own gun registry — making it the only province to announce its intention to do so.

The province has argued it would cost too much to start the registry anew.

Lawyers for the federal government have argued that if Quebec wants a registry of its own, it should start from scratch. The Conservative government has vowed to fight to ensure all the data is destroyed.

Both sides have called the case a legal first in Canada.

Thursday's decision said it was "clearly inappropriate" for a lower court, in a ruling last year, to compel the federal government to maintain the Quebec share of the registry.

It quoted a recent Supreme Court ruling that said that as popular as "flexible federalism" might be, the goal of accommodating another level of government "cannot sweep designated powers out to sea, nor erode the constitutional balance inherent in the Canadian federal state."

The judgment, rendered by five Quebec Court of Appeal judges, suggested there's an appropriate place to seek redress for the scrapping of the registry: at the ballot box, not in the courtroom.

A gun-control group promised to keep fighting.

The group Polytechnique Remembers includes people directly impacted by the 1989 Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were murdered. Heidi Rathjen, a spokesperson, said it's just the latest stage in a battle since the Conservatives took office.

"We've had many, many setbacks and the one light in all this is the determination of the Quebec government to fight the federal government," said Rathjen.

"The (Quebec) government is going to appeal so all hope is not lost."

Nathalie Provost, a Polytechnique survivor, said she doesn't understand the Conservative approach to gun control.

"For me, a gun is something that is very, very dangerous that has to be handled with a lot of precaution," Provost told reporters outside the Montreal courthouse.

"For a lot of people from the Conservative government, I think they see it as a right (to have a gun), so it's a very, very different point of view."

Quebec's justice minister said the issue is not settled yet.

"There is a consensus in Quebec regarding the registration of firearms," Bertrand St-Arnaud said in a statement. "All political parties represented in the national assembly unanimously defend this position and strongly oppose the federal government's decision to abolish the firearms registry."

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