Superior Court stops destruction of Quebec's long-gun registry data

QUEBEC — The Globe and Mail

A rifle owner checks the sight of his rifle at a hunting camp property in rural Ontario west of Ottawa on Wednesday Sept. 15, 2010. The House of Commons is set to vote on the long-gun registry next week. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

On the same day that legislation to destroy the federal long-gun registry received royal assent, a Quebec court has stepped in and stopped the federal government from deleting all data involving the province.

Superior Court Judge Jean-François de Grandpré sided with the Quebec government and ordered Ottawa to not only temporarily safeguard the data but to allow the province the right to access the information contained in the registry. The ruling also requires that all new non-restricted firearms such as rifles and shotguns continue to be registered in the province.

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The order issued on Thursday took effect immediately, just hours before the bill abolishing the gun registry was given royal assent. The interim ruling will be enforced for a week, until further motions for an injunction can be argued next week.

In Ottawa, the Conservatives celebrated the demise of the registry, with one MP paraphrasing Martin Luther King to the cheers of his colleagues in the House of Commons.

“Free at last, free at last,” said New Brunswick MP John Williamson. “God almighty, Canadians are finally free at last [of the gun registry]”

The U.S. civil-rights leader was killed 44 years ago this week by a bullet from a long gun.

The Quebec government hopes to receive a temporary injunction to protect the data until a permanent ruling, which could take months, can be obtained.

“So for a week it [the gun registry]is still there. Of course it’s good news but it’s just a first step,” Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier said. “There is no destruction of the data. The registry is still in operation. We are going to go back in front of the judge in a week for another hearing and we’ll see what happens.”

In its brief to the court, Quebec argued that the registry helped reduce gun-related crimes, suicides and homicides. Police in Quebec consulted the registry an average of 700 times a day, the province argued, making the registry an instrumental tool in investigations.

The federal government made it clear from the outset that it would destroy the data as soon as it could in accordance with a provision in the newly passed law.

“As soon as the legislation is passed, there is a requirement to destroy the data. If there’s no legal impediment to destroying the data, that process continues,” said federal Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews.

In statement released by his office, Mr. Toews said that the court ruling was temporary and in no way “diminished our commitment to ending the long-gun registry once and for all.”

The minister expressed disappointment with the court decision, saying it went against the “will of Canadians and of Parliament.”

Rather than battling in court, Quebec urged Ottawa to help the province set up its own gun registry, using the data collected in Quebec since 1998.

“The federal government can still change its mind and accept to co-operate. The victims of firearms and their families are making the same request,” Mr. Fournier said.

Quebec was at the forefront of the movement to set up the gun registry after the deaths of 14 women during the 1989 shooting rampage at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.

Heidi Rathjen, a student at the École Polytechnique at the time, now heads a group that supports maintaining the gun registry in Quebec.

“The Conservatives in Ottawa want nothing to do with the gun registry. Our group appeared before the Senate committee last week. It was a real joke. It was nothing more than a political spectacle,” Ms. Rathjen said on Thursday.

She said that the registry works and it would be ridiculous for Ottawa to abolish the data and impede Quebec’s will to maintain it.

With a report from Carys Mills in Ottawa and The Canadian Press

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