Court stalls demise of long gun registry

Federal Conservatives have had a dream for a long time — and on Thursday they finally celebrated the demise of the long-gun registry.

Federal Conservatives have had a dream for a long time — and on Thursday they finally celebrated the demise of the long-gun registry.

One even quoted the famous speech by Martin Luther King, to the cheers of Tory colleagues in the House of Commons.

“Free at last, free at last,” said New Brunswick MP John Williamson, paraphrasing the U.S. civil-rights leader, who was killed 44 years ago this week by a bullet from a long gun.

“Law-abiding Canadians are finally free at last.”

But those cheers in Parliament were muted by a legal setback.

While the bill to end the federal long-gun registry received royal assent in Ottawa after sailing through the Senate, things played out differently in a Montreal courtroom.

Quebec Superior Court agreed to order a delay in the deletion of registry data from that province, following a request by the provincial government.

The court has granted the reprieve until further motions for an injunction can be argued next week, when the Quebec-Ottawa registry legal fight moves to its next phase. The province wants to keep the data for Quebec so that it can set up its own provincial registry.

In the rest of the country, the bill to scrap the long-gun registry and destroy all its records was to become law at midnight but federal lawyers said the actual destruction of the paper and computer files that make up the registry is still months away.

Meanwhile, the registry will continue to function in Quebec — long arms will still be registered and the information will be kept for now.

The Quebec government has argued that the data is vital in the province, where about 94 per cent of firearms registered are of the long-gun variety.

“For the moment, it’s the status quo that is maintained. The information will continue to be registered,” said Quebec government lawyer Eric Dufour. “The information will continue to be amassed for an eventual provincial database.”

Next Thursday and Friday, another judge will hear arguments regarding the request for a permanent injunction. The case has the potential to drag on for some time.

Thursday’s granting of an interim order protecting the data was not automatic, and depended on the legal arguments that persuaded the judge.

Ironically, it was some remarks by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews — a committed registry foe — that may have convinced the Quebec judge to grant the temporary reprieve.

Toews’s remarks helped persuade the judge that the situation was urgent and warranted a safeguard order until a case for a permanent injunction and a constitutional challenge could be heard next week.

“As soon as the legislation is passed there is a requirement to destroy the data,” Toews told a news conference earlier Thursday.

Quebec lawyers rushed to share that news with Justice Jean-Francois de Grandpre. Upon being informed of Toews’ comments, de Grandpre said in his ruling that it was necessary to issue an order.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the government will respect the judicial process, but has no plans to help Quebec create a new registry.

“The federal government is acting within its jurisdiction by abolishing its own registry — we promised to eliminate the gun registry once and for all, and we will deliver,” said Carl Vallee.

“The provinces are free to do as they wish in their jurisdictions, but our government will not help to create a new registry by the back door.”

A federal lawyer had been stressing in court Thursday that the deletion process won’t be easy, and repeatedly mentioned that it might actually take months to complete across the country.

That federal lawyer had been trying to persuade the judge that there was no urgency to accept Quebec’s request, because the registry data would not be destroyed for some time.

Lawyer Claude Joyal said the earliest the registry documentation would be deleted is in August; he continued to maintain that position in court, even after being informed of Toews’ comments.

Quebec will argue next week that it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to destroy the information if it means thwarting the public policy of another level of government.

The registry battle has been particularly emotional in Quebec, which was the epicentre of the national gun-control movement after the Polytechnique massacre of 1989. Polytechnique survivor and gun-control advocate Heidi Rathjen applauded Thursday’s court ruling, calling it a great first step.

The provincial justice minister said Quebec had no choice but to use the courts, because the federal government wouldn’t listen.

Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier expressed satisfaction with Thursday’s legal developments, while warning that the contest is far from won.

“It’s clear that when the first inning goes well, it’s better than when it goes badly,” he told reporters in Quebec City.

“We’re obviously happy with the decision. That being said, this decision is good for one week and there’s still a battle ahead.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Aug. 9

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4:00… Continue reading

Team says technical issues from ‘unprecedented demand’ left Oilers raffle in limbo

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers’ record-setting online 50/50 raffle from Friday with… Continue reading

Update: Possible drowning at Pigeon Lake involved man and woman from Edmonton

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

Red Deer Region Highland Dancing Association to participate in national dance-a-thon

Central Albertan dancers have missed performing during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the… Continue reading

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

US hits 5 million confirmed virus cases, Europe is amazed

ROME — With confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. hitting 5 million… Continue reading

University of Victoria and women’s rowing coach sued over alleged verbal abuse

VANCOUVER — A former member of the University of Victoria’s varsity women’s… Continue reading

Parents, teachers press Quebec to revise back-to-school plan amid COVID-19

MONTREAL — For Politimi Karounis, August is usually spent buying new backpacks,… Continue reading

69 salmonella cases in B.C. linked to red onions, province’s CDC says

VANCOUVER — The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning people in… Continue reading

Black Nova Scotia man ‘overjoyed’ as struggle for land title moves forward

HALIFAX — Christopher Downey finished building his home in 2002 on a… Continue reading

Puncher’s chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one… Continue reading

Most Read