Canada court rules to effectively kill firearms registry

Michel Comte
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The Supreme Court of Canada sent proponents of broadening admissions to one of the Arctic's few French-language schools back to the drawing board, ordering a new trial in a convoluted case

The Supreme Court of Canada sent proponents of broadening admissions to one of the Arctic's few French-language schools back to the drawing board, ordering a new trial in a convoluted case (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Ottawa (AFP) - Canada's high court struck a blow against gun control on Friday, with a decision that clears the way for the federal government to destroy data on owners of rifles and shotguns.

Ottawa ordered the database destroyed in 2012, but Quebec went to court to try to stop it, hoping to use the names of Quebecers on the list to build its own firearms registry.

The Supreme Court's decision means that while Canadians must still obtain a license to own a gun, most will not have to disclose that they own a long gun.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a longtime advocate for the gun rights of hunters and farmers, said he was "happy" with this outcome.

But in Quebec, which also fought to maintain the national firearms registry created by parliament in 1995, there was disappointment.

The province pressed Ottawa to hand over parts of the database relevant to Quebec after the federal government shut down the national firearms registry three years ago.

But Harper's Tory government refused, citing critics of the registry who complained the original had been an expensive intrusion on gun owners and should not be repeated.

Furthermore, the Tories argued, the registry did not help to stem crime.

With both sides refusing to yield and Quebec vowing to create its own registry from scratch, firearms regulations are sure to become a hot campaign issue in upcoming elections.

In a five-four split decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Quebec had simply failed to establish a legal basis for its claim to the data.

The court added that the disagreement over the fate of the information in the registry should have been negotiated in a political process, rather than adjudicated.

Quebec Public Safety Minister Lise Theriault said the province would move ahead with its plans for a database of its own, allocating Can$30 million (US$24 million) for the project.

Quebec led the effort to create the national firearms registry in the wake of a 1989 Montreal college shooting rampage in which 14 people were killed by a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle.

"We remain convinced that the everyday use of such a tool is necessary to facilitate investigations and emergency responses, and execute court-ordered prohibitions on possessing firearms," Theriault said.

Harper, meanwhile, stuck to his guns.

"We have registration of all handguns already. We have registration of all restricted weapons already," he told reporters.

"In our view, and I think it has been borne out by the facts, we simply don't need another very expensive and not effective registry.

"What we have needed are severe, strong and more effective penalties for people who commit criminal acts using guns and that is what we've done."

Earlier this month, Harper earned widespread scorn over comments he made which seemed to wrongfully imply that Canadians have the right to shoot intruders.

"My wife's from a rural area, gun ownership wasn't just for the farm, it was also for a certain level of security when you're ways away from police, immediate police assistance," he'd told the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities on March 12.

Legal experts and the opposition pounced on the comments to suggest Harper had urged Canadians to take the law into their own hands.

"It's vigilantism," former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant was widely quoted as saying.

"People are going to find themselves facing the criminal justice system and being charged with serious crimes if they decide to follow what the prime minister is suggesting."

According to federal police, nearly two million people are licensed to hold guns in Canada, including 500,000 in Quebec province.

They own an estimated 7.5 million to 9 million guns.