Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada heard Quebec’s appeal regarding the destruction of the Federal long-gun registry data. Legally, the case will turn on the constitutional principle of federalism, but will also have a significant impact on public safety and the efficacy of gun control efforts in Quebec. The Coalition for Gun Control intervened by written submission.
Parliament enacted the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act in 2012, which removed the requirement for Canadians to register non-restricted firearms such as hunting rifles and shotguns. At the center of last week’s hearing is section 29 of the Act, which orders the Commissioner of Firearms to destroy all records of non-restricted guns contained in the Canadian Firearms Registry. It also orders each Chief Firearms Officer to destroy all such data under their control.
The Federal Government relies on a broad interpretation of the term “abolish” to include abolishing the long-gun registry going forward, as well as destroying the history of records accumulated since its implementation. To date, all records of registered non-restricted guns have been deleted from the Canadian Firearms Registry except for the 1.6 million records from Quebec.
Quebec intends to enact its own long-gun registry following the repeal of the federal registry in 2012. In order to create a complete record of registered firearms, the province requires that the Government of Canada turn over the records.
Quebec argues that to destroy these records would be unconstitutional under the principle of federalism as it encroaches on their provincial jurisdiction over property and civil rights. It does not fall within Parliament’s jurisdiction over criminal law matters because the destruction of the records has no connection to the prevention of crime.
Even if the Federal Registrar controls the data, it also serves provincial purposes and cannot unilaterally destroy these records without consent from the province. The principle of co-operative federalism necessitates a respect for provincial characteristics.
While there is no clear reason for why Quebec was the only province that took to the court to oppose the destruction of the registry data, the Montreal Massacre of 1989 has undoubtedly contributed to Quebec’s attitudes towards gun control. Access to the registry data relates to such matters as the administration of justice and suicide prevention, which fall under provincial jurisdiction. To destroy the data would create an unnecessary obstacle for Quebec in achieving objectives under its jurisdiction and is contrary to the principle of co-operative federalism.
As to the issue of privacy, the Federal Government argues that even if section 29 were unconstitutional, to turn over the data would be an invasion of the registered gun owners’ privacy rights. But on closer inspection of section 29(3), the provision runs contrary to privacy laws by exempting certain provisions the Privacy Act and Library and Archives of Canada Act dealing with the preservation of government records.
Because the collection of the registry data itself did not violate privacy laws, the preservation of the data subsequent to the registry’s repeal does not constitute an invasion of privacy, nor would the sharing of the data between Federal and Provincial governments.
For Quebec, access to the registry records is fundamental to creating a complete database of registered long guns going forward. Without access to this data, more than 1.6 million non-restricted guns in Quebec will be untraceable. Registration of all firearms holds gun owners accountable for their weapons and reduces the possibility of the gun falling in the possession of unlicensed owners.
The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to follow in the coming months.