The Supreme Court of Canada agreed Thursday to give the Quebec government one last shot at making the case for the preservation of provincial registry data.
Records detailing more than five million rifles and shotguns owned by Canadians in the other provinces and territories were fully destroyed a year ago, but a series of court battles has preserved Quebec — the birthplace of the registry — as the last holdout.
"For the moment, we're satisfied with the situation and we're preparing for the eventual creation of a Quebec arms registry," Stephane Bergeron, Quebec's public safety minister, said in Quebec City.
His federal counterpart, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, issued a statement saying the Conservative government "will vigorously defend our legislation, adopted by Parliament, in front of the Supreme Court."
The majority Conservatives killed the registry in February 2012 and Quebec has been fighting the decision ever since.
The province was on the losing end the last time it argued the case.
In June, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled the province "has no property right in the data" and upheld Ottawa's right to act as it saw fit.
"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 Quebec court ruled.
The provincial government, backed by gun control advocates, appealed and the Supreme Court has agreed to revisit the case. As usual, the justices gave no reasons for deciding to hear the appeal.
The Coalition for Gun Control, formed after 14 women were gunned down at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique in December 1989, expressed hope Thursday that the top court eventually will preserve the Quebec registry data.
"The decision of the court reaffirms the fact that there is public interest in studying Quebec's request for an appeal on the decision to destroy the records on 1.6 million rifles and shotguns registered in Quebec," coalition president Wendy Cukier said in a release.
Conservatives have long railed against the registry as ineffective and prohibitively expensive. The fiscal arguments since its demise, however, have been inconclusive.
The federal government frequently cited cost totals above $1 billion over the life of the registry, which was created in 1993.
However government documents show that all gun registration combined cost $7.3 million in 2010-11, the last full year of operation — a total that included handguns and restricted weapons which must still be registered by law.
The federal government has been unable or unwilling to say how much money will be saved by killing the long-gun portion of the registry.
Firearms licensing and infrastructure, meanwhile, cost more than $50 million annually and those costs continue.
Quebec now argues that destroying registry data it wants to keep for its own provincial program is simply a waste of public resources. Taxpayers funding the court challenges adds further salt to the wound.
"From the point of view of sound management of public money, it is a decision that can absolutely not be understood," said Bergeron.
"And to see the federal government persisting and spending again public money to prevent Quebec from using this data, and forcing the Quebec government to spend public money to be able to use data that Quebec taxpayers have already paid for, that defies imagination."
Ottawa confirmed last November that it had successfully destroyed registry data from all provinces and territories except Quebec.
At the time, the Canadian Sports Shooting Association told its membership to "rest assured, we are the envy of international firearms advocates everywhere'' because Canada was almost alone internationally in rolling back gun control laws.
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