Knowledge is power to the wise, but where wisdom is lacking to those hungry for power, a simple diet of data will suffice. It is such appetite that drives Quebec to preserve the long gun registry data.
Getting rid of the registry was a Conservative campaign promise that was fulfilled last April. The new federal legislation stopped forcing lawful owners of long weapons to register them and relaxed requirements around selling or transferring these firearms. It is not an abandonment of federal responsibility over criminal matters. Firearm licences and the registry for restricted and prohibited firearms, such as pistols, still exist.
But before Bill C-19 to scrap the registry was even introduced in the Senate, the government of Quebec spoiled for a fight to get its hands on the Quebec part of the data, wishing to establish its own registry. Upon enactment, Quebec immediately launched a court challenge to stop the data involving more than 1.5 million long guns registered by Quebecers from being destroyed.
Quebec recently won the first instalment of its court challenge. A Quebec court ordered the federal government to surrender the data within 30 days. Ottawa said Monday that it will appeal the ruling.
From the many accusations and acrimonious remarks, we can filter three arguments in favour of preserving the registry’s data involving Quebecers. Ironically, the first and perhaps the most valid is a constitutional argument once used against the creation of the federal registry. According to Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard, the federal government must not invoke jurisdiction over criminal law to overstep the provincial power over property.
“We have here an abusive use of criminal-law jurisdiction to encroach onto a domain of provincial jurisdiction,” Blanchard said.
But it’s a bit late for that. The Supreme Court blessed the federal registry on account of its federal criminal jurisdiction. Blanchard wants to have the constitutional cake and eat it too.
The second is saving money. Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said that Quebec should be given the data it paid for. Paying for something in these matters doesn’t entitle one to have them. We cannot demand ownership of Canadian Forces equipment because we pay taxes any more than Alberta could demand ownership of … well, so much in Quebec.
Lastly, there is a sad sense that governments make legislation strictly to honour people. Allan Rock was so successful at marrying the legislation to the 1989 Montreal massacre that some misguidedly wish to keep it, seeing the law as a memorial to the victims. These are not convincing arguments.
The court decision compels the federal government to hand over what it has, but it also forces Ottawa to keep registering long guns and recording transfers of ownership for Quebecers until it fully submits the database to the province. Blanchard’s respect for constitutional jurisdictions cuts one way only. While he wishes for Ottawa not to impose on Quebec, he is just fine with Quebec imposing on Ottawa.
It’s true that our Constitution grants provinces jurisdiction over property. This is why we register our dwellings and our vehicles through provinces. Forcing Quebecers to register their long weapons with a provincial authority is not unconstitutional. But nowhere does it say that the feds have to help them. Not unlike in fiscal matters, Quebec claims autonomy and wants to force the help of those it claims autonomy from in the same breath.
The prime minister believes in strong provincial rights, but he also believes in individual rights. The Quebec government is the government of Quebecers, but as long as Quebec is in Canada, the Canadian Parliament also has a duty to protect them, and help to protect them. Placing matters in context, we should ask whether Ottawa should willingly help Quebec impose greater controls over those Canadians.
Quebec typically seeks to tax, register and control most areas of life. Quebec compels all housing leases to expire at the same time, forces women to keep their maiden names for the sake of tracking them better, follows citizens throughout their lives, compelling usage of student numbers long after they have left the school system, commands state permission to name one’s child, forces people to post public commercial signs outdoors exclusively in French, and demands a special permit to send one’s children to school in English. It so mothers its people that it even runs an outdoors network, providing camping services with all the equipment, including tents.
Ottawa should have no part in the cuddling and controlling of Canadian citizens to such extent. It cannot stop Quebec from doing what it does, but has no obligation to help.
Ottawa has a duty to fight the court order.