OTTAWA - Federal Conservatives erupted in cheers Wednesday after finally securing House of Commons approval to scrap the controversial long-gun registry.
The Harper government used its majority to pass the bill by a vote of 159-130, with the support of two maverick New Democrats — John Rafferty and Bruce Hyer.
All other NDP, Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and Green MPs voted against it.
The vote effectively puts the registry on life support; all that remains is for the Senate to pull the plug. Since the Conservatives enjoy a commanding majority in the upper chamber as well, the registry's fate is sealed.
"They've got the majority and unless something extraordinary happens, it will pass," acknowledged Liberal Senate leader James Cowan.
Cowan said Liberal senators will ensure the bill is examined thoroughly at committee and that both supporters and opponents of the registry are given sufficient time to be heard one more time. But he said Liberals will not "delay, obstruct or filibuster" the bill.
However, Quebec served noticed that the moment the bill is enacted, the province will launch court action to prevent the registry records from being destroyed.
Since taking office in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly vowed to kill the long-gun registry. But he's been thwarted until now by the opposition parties, which held the upper hand in the Commons until Harper captured his coveted majority in last May's election.
"Many of us have waited for this day for a very long time," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told a news conference earlier Wednesday.
He said it's the end of a campaign that began for him 15 years ago, when he was attorney general of Manitoba. And he called it an important day for Conservatives, who have opposed the registry for years.
Toews said the registry — created by Jean Chretien's Liberal government following the massacre of 14 women at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989 — is "a billion-dollar boondoggle" that does nothing but penalize law-abiding hunters and farmers.
"It does nothing to help put an end to gun crime, nor has it saved one Canadian life," he argued.
However, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has argued strenuously in favour of keeping the registry, calling it an essential law enforcement tool. The association says police consult the registry, on average, more than 10,000 times a day, often to determine the possible presence of a shotgun or rifle in a home where they've received a domestic violence call.
In the Commons, Conservative MPs gave a particularly rousing cheer to Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz, a longtimer crusader against the gun registry whose office once issued a news release referring to the police chief's association as a "cult."
While the Tories were congratulating themselves, the end of the registry was being mourned by others.
"This is a sad day for victims of violence," said interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel.
Turmel said there will be "consequences" for Rafferty and Hyer, both of whom represent Thunder Bay, Ont., ridings, for defying their party's line on the registry.
It's unclear what more she can do to the pair, who also broke ranks when the registry bill was put to a second reading vote last November. At that time, Turmel suspended their travel privileges and banned them from participating in question period, sitting on committees or making public statements.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae slammed the Tories' "triumphalism" and said the more they celebrate the registry's demise, "the more they distance themselves from where most Canadians are on this question."
Women's groups and victims of gun violence expressed outrage.
The Coalition for Gun Control reiterated its complaint that the bill goes beyond simply ending the registration of shot guns and rifles, including the semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 used at Ecole Polytechnique.
The lobby group said gun dealers will no longer have to record information on the guns they sell and to whom, "severely crippling the ability of the police to trace firearms recovered in crime." Moreover, it said individuals will be able to acquire unlimited numbers of long guns without having to prove they have valid firearms licences.
The Tories were planning a reception on Parliament Hill following Wednesday's vote to celebrate the end of the registry.
News of the celebration drew condemnation in Quebec, where support for the registry is strong.
The leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois began question period in the National Assembly by reading off the names of the 14 women gunned down at Ecole Polytechnique.
"After creating an online countdown clock announcing the end of the registry, we hear Conservative MPs will celebrate their victory tonight like it was a hockey match," said PQ Leader Pauline Marois. "It's shameful, disgusting and revolting."
Quebec is ready to go to court to block the Conservative plan to destroy the existing registry records once the legislation becomes law.
"We can't launch a suit to get the data before the law receives (royal) assent," Public Safety Minister Robert Dutil said.
"Our people have been duly advised that, the moment that assent occurs, legal action will be tabled in order to preserve the data."
Toews was adamant that the information will be erased as soon as possible after the bill becomes law.
He said the government can't shoot down the registry while keeping the records, the essence of the registry, in existence.
He said Quebec can start its own registry, but can't expect any federal help.
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