Harper’s refusal to work with Quebec on gun registry bad for national unity

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It’s just as well that Quebec Justice Clément Gascon has been rushed through the appointment process to join his colleagues on the Supreme Court of Canada as they’re going to need all the help they can get when they rule on who owns the data from the federal gun registry which was dismantled by the Harper government in 2012.  Gascon represents one of Quebec’s finest legal minds, which is a good thing because the plaintiff is none other than the Government of Quebec (specifically the Attorney General) who is asking for the provincial gun owners’ data to be transferred to the Quebec government so that it can create their own version of the defunct registry.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our blessed federation that this admirable request is being turned down by the Feds for the most incomprehensible reasons imaginable.  Even more flabbergasting when you consider that they’re thumbing their nose at a government, in Quebec City, that is not only arguably the most federalist in a generation, but is at the same time extending the olive branch to the rest of Canada with regards to finally signing the 1982 Canada Act and joining the rest of the country.

But getting back to the million dollar question: how will the Supreme Court decide the predictably thorny case before it?  On the one hand, the registry was federally administered and so Quebec’s Court of Appeals may have been right to rule that the program is the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government.  Or is Chief Council Dufour, speaking for Quebec last Wednesday, correct in saying that the data gathered belongs to no one, and that the unilateral decision to destroy the information, is contrary to the principles of Canadian federalism?

The Quebec position has virtually the unanimous support of the National Assembly, and the government has apparently put together a bill that could legislate a new gun registry within a couple of months of the federal government yielding the portion of the data-base in question.  The Quebec government also has the overwhelming evidence that the registry saves lives and is regarded as an effective crime-fighting tool by the vast majority of law enforcement officials and police, a fact that might just sway the red-robes to order the data be handed over.  If that weren’t enough, polls show that around the time of its abrogation, 74% of Quebeckers were in favour of keeping the registry (not surprising when you consider that this national gun control measure was introduced as a response to the Polytechnique massacre in Montreal).

Then again, the Harper government is terribly worried that the data might be “old and inaccurate” and a lobbyist for Canada’s NRA (i.e. Canadian Association of Fire Arms Owners) idiotically suggested that the Quebec government is “at odds with the political will of Quebeckers.”  Again, I refer you to the polling on the subject.  There’s no question whatsoever, that Quebec wants to reinstate the data-base.

The timing of this dispute is bad news from the point of view of Canadian unity.  While no one expects Quebec to declare its independence if it loses this important legal battle, it is a little ironic and very unfortunate that the legal dispute is occurring at the very moment that Canada finally has a genuine partner in nation building.  Premier Couillard, then only a candidate for the top political job in Quebec, mentioned signing the 1982 Canada Act during the last election campaign, which left a few pundits (même le bloguer M. DesBaillets) with their jaws on the floor given the that the issue was long held to be a third rail in Quebec politics.

More recently, Québec Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Jean Marc Fournier, dared to tread where none of his predecessors would ever dream of going by signalling that his side is willing to negotiate with the rest of the country in good faith to resolve the 32 year old impasse over the Feds’ inability to come to terms with the province.  But judging by the hostile stance of the Harper government towards reconciliation over the gun registry, I would say we’re a long way from bringing the prodigal son of Canadian Confederation home.

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Other articles by David DesBaillets

Are Canadian unions divorcing the NDP?
Harper government eliminates another obstacle to executive powers
Harper misses the point on calls for public inquiry into missing aboriginal women
New book and Scottish separatism resurrects the ghosts of the 1995 Quebec Referendum
Has the Harper government declared war on Canadian charities

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