There is no shortage of tension between the federal Conservative government and the province of Québec.
Matters include: the Supreme Court of Canada Senate Reference; the intention to appoint Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada as a representative from Québec; ongoing debate surrounding Bill 52 (Euthanasia); and of course, Québec’s gun registry appeal to the SCC, one of the most controversial law enforcement changes in Canadian history.
In its lifetime, the federal long-gun registry database has cost Canadians over $1 billion.
It’s important to place the long-gun registry and its purpose within an historical context. In 1993, the federal Liberal Party of Canada created the long-gun registry, in part because of the tragic events of December 6, 1989, the massacre of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montréal, who were discriminated against because of their gender.
Fast-forward almost twenty years later. The Conservative government announces their intention to destroy federal long-gun registry data through Bill C-19: Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act. Québec vehemently opposes the motion. February 15, 2012, Bill C-19 passed third reading in a 159 to 130 vote in the House of Commons. The gun-registry database would soon be dismantled, including information on 5.6 million rifles and shotguns, and 1.6 million rifles registered by Québec residents. The Conservatives even had a count-down clock on their website prior to the vote. Québec remained outraged and expressed its intention to create its own registry.
Parti Québecois leader Pauline Marois expressed her discontent toward abolishment. Following the Conservative Party’s announcement of a cocktail party to celebrate the federal Bill’s passing, she commented that the dismantling of the registry was “indecent and unacceptable.” She also read the names of the 14 women killed in Montréal’s 1989 massacre.
Bob Rae, Interim Liberal Leader, expressed concerns about the cocktail celebration:
“All of us should be sensitive to the feelings of Canadians across the country,” Rae told reporters. “The more they celebrate, the more they distance themselves” from Canadians who don’t always agree with government policies.
Québec Conservative MP Maxine Bernier was of a different view and towed the party line:
“[...] my colleagues [the Conservatives] will have a reception this evening to underline the fact that we have realized another of our election promises,” Bernier said. “Certain colleagues want to meet with the people who have worked for many years to abolish the registry.”
After passing the House of Commons, the federal bill to scrap the long-gun registry passed the Senate on third reading on April 4, 2012, in a vote of 50 to 27.
On February 19, 2013, Bill-20: Firearms Registration Act was presented in Québec’s National Assembly by the Provincial Minister of Public Security Stephané Bergeron.
June 27, 2013, the Québec Court of Appeal overruled a Québec Superior Court ruling and sided with the federal government, rejecting Québec’s claims to preserve long-gun registry data. The decision stated:
“Québec has no property right to the data in the [Canadian Firearms Registry],” the appeal court decision reads. “The data does not belong to Québec, and the provinces have no control over it.”
The decision also discussed the complex area of federalism:
“It quoted a recent Supreme Court ruling that said that as popular as ‘flexible federalism’ might be, it ‘cannot sweep designated powers out to sea, nor erode the constitutional balance inherent in the Canadian federal state.’”
Québec’s Justice Minister, Bertrand St-Arnaud, responded within the 15-day appeal period with the intention to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Mr. St-Arnaud stated:
“All political parties represented in the national assembly defend this position and strongly oppose the federal government’s decision to abolish the firearms registry.”
November 21, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear Québec’s opposition to the Court of Appeal decision. No reasons were given for the decision to hear the case, which is the norm. The case has certainly received widespread public interest:
“The decision of the court reaffirms the fact that there is public interest in studying Québec’s request for an appeal on the decision to destroy the records on 1.6 million rifles and shotguns registered in Québec,” [Coalition for Gun Control] president Wendy Cukier said in a release.”
Gun-registry data has now been destroyed from all provinces and territories except Québec. The province remains the birthplace of the long-gun registry, and may be the final resting place of an ongoing federal-provincial battle that will extend to 2014 — maybe beyond.