Quebec government to maintain gun registry deadline, will ease some criteria

Quebec’s long gun registry will come into force as scheduled next week, but the public security minister offered concessions Wednesday to gun owners who have been slow to sign up.

Genevieve Guilbault told reporters the Coalition Avenir Quebec government will introduce a bill easing some of the rules in the legislation, which was adopted in 2016 under the previous Liberal government.

Guilbault made clear the government remains committed to the registry, which some would like to see abolished. “There is a law, and the law as well as the registry are here to stay, so people have to comply,” Guilbault told reporters in Quebec City. “They have a few days left to register their guns legally, because as of Jan. 30, fines could apply.”

With the Jan. 29 deadline for registering less than a week away, Guilbault said about 350,000 people have listed their weapons, with a notable uptick this month. The total is less than a quarter of the 1.6 million long guns — mostly shotguns and rifles — estimated to be owned by Quebecers.

Guilbault said the proposed amendments were a response to gun owners’ concerns that were ignored by the previous government. Once the amendments are passed, gun owners will no longer have to notify the registry if they have their firearm away from its usual storage location for more than two weeks. That period — considered too short by hunters who spend long periods in the bush — will be extended, but Guilbault did not say for how long.

Owners also won’t have to provide their weapon’s registration number upon request by a peace officer or provide the barrel length when registering a weapon. The registration number requirement was seen as unnecessary bureaucracy, and directions to determine barrel length were unclear.

Guilbault said she hopes to increase participation and make the registry more efficient at the same time. She added the cost of the registry remains as forecast — about $20 million to implement and $5 million annually to administer.

Heidi Rathjen, a spokesperson for the gun-control group PolySeSouvient, took part in Guilbault’s news conference. She said her group supports the government’s proposed changes.

“The devil may be in the details, but in principle, as long as it doesn’t compromise public safety, we’re completely in favour,” Rathjen said. “For us, the most important thing is the law will stay, it will come into effect, that if you get caught, you can get a fine.”

Opponents of the registry have been encouraging people to delay signing up in hopes the government would be forced to backtrack. Rathjen said the proper forum for that debate is the courts, where a Superior Court decision upholding the registry is currently being appealed.

Alain Cossette of the Federation quebecoise des chasseurs et pecheurs, a lobby group representing hunters and anglers, said it remains opposed to the registry but hasn’t encouraged civil disobedience of any sort. “As soon as the law was there, we worked to have the changes that are announced today,” Cossette said, adding that the ultimate goal is to see the registry abolished.

There will not be a penalty for late registration, but people who are caught with unregistered weapons will face fines of between $500 and $5,000.

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