10/26/2011 02:55 EDT | Updated 12/26/2011 05:12 EST

Long-Gun Registry: Quebec Says It Will Fight Harper Government On Destroying Data

QUEBEC - The Harper government's plan to not only kill the long-gun registry but subsequently bury its data has run into resistance in Quebec, which wants to bring the controversial program back from the dead.

The provincial government says it intends to keep using the gun registry on its territory and will fiercely oppose plans to destroy the data.

Speaking at a news conference in Quebec City, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil refused Wednesday to rule out legal action among his options.

A spokesman later explained that the province's Plan A is to maintain a repectful dialogue with Ottawa and negotiate a mechanism to save the records. If that fails, Plan B options will be weighed.

Quebec had already announced months ago it wanted to keep using some kind of long-gun registry if the Harper government killed the federal version, as expected.

But this week Ottawa made it clear that, in addition to destroying the registry, it would also eliminate the data compiled over the past decade.

"We know that the federal government, in the last (Conservative) election campaign, said it would abolish the registry," Dutil said.

"We don't agree with that but we learned about it during the election campaign. But they never said they were going to destroy the records.

"We are formally, ferociously opposed to that."

The announcement from Quebec came amid a flurry of reaction in the wake of the federal announcement.

Supporters of the Harper government have been waiting for years to celebrate the end of a gun-control measure they consider intrusive, expensive and ineffective.

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews offered a brief and adamant response to the Quebec announcement: "The long-gun registry data is under federal control. Our legislation will destroy this data."

Earlier Wednesday, Toews told the Commons the registry had done nothing to keep weapons away from criminals. He said the government intended to destroy the records in order to protect the privacy of law-abiding gun owners.

"The only reason the NDP wish to retain these records is to reinstate the long-gun registry whenever it is in the position to do so,'' Toews said.

''What we will do is abolish the long-gun registry once and for all."

The Tories also sought to sow divisions on the opposition benches over the issue. New Democrats have traditionally been split on gun control, with the fissure existing largely along urban-rural lines. The Tories took delight in reading old statements from NDPers who oppose the registry.

But the Opposition put up a united front Wednesday — especially when it came to destroying the database. One member, Jack Harris, called the move tantamount to creating a $2-billion bonfire.

Nathan Cullen, an MP from northern British Columbia and an NDP leadership contender, said the party caucus is much more likely to be unified in its opposition to the bill this time because it includes not only scrapping the registry but the records as well.

"The government has way overstepped and shown themselves to be quite spiteful in insisting that the records be burned on the front of Parliament Hill," Cullen said in an interview.

Cullen had promised his constituents in past elections that he'd support scrapping the registry but he said he can't support destroying the records as well.

"They're making it very, very hard for me to support them."

Cullen also questioned whether the government has the legal authority to destroy the records. The bill specifically says the Privacy Act will not apply to the destruction of records.

A spokesperson for federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault said she intends to examine the bill — specifically to see whether it is legal under Sec. 67 of the Access to Information Act, which says, "No person shall ... destroy, mutilate or alter a record," in order to circumvent the law.

One advocate of open government, researcher Ken Rubin, wrote to Legault and also Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart asking them to investigate the destruction of records.

While the Quebec government has expressed its shock at the latest federal move, the Harper government actually signalled in July that any province seeking to create its own registry would have to start from scratch.

The Harper government has suggested that sharing details from the database would violate the Privacy Act.

The registry was created in the wake of Montreal's Polytechnique massacre in 1989.

It became a lightning rod for controversy, with some jurisdictions categorically refusing to enforce it and as its surprisingly high price tag was revealed.

The registry data is now largely out of date and obsolete anyway, its opponents say.

Ottawa has essentially been signalling its intention to kill the database for the last five years and gutted the funding from the federal body that handles it.

Dutil conceded Wednesday that destroying the records would make it difficult to keep a registry in Quebec.

"If we don't have the data, the costs (of creating a new registry) would be prohibitive," he said.

The province's intergovernmental affairs minister said Quebec taxpayers helped pay for that registry — and they don't want to lose it.

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