The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] ruled [judgment, PDF] Friday that the federal government does not have to relinquish its gun-registry database to Quebec. The Court’s 5-4 decision affirmed [National Post report] Parliament’s constitutional right over criminal law. Although three Quebec judges dissented, the majority ruled that the principle of cooperative federalism—collaborative national, state and local government interactions to solve common problems for the national good—does not limit the federal government’s constitutional powers to legislate in matters of criminal law. The justices determined that Quebec had no legal right to the data and that the government’s decision to dismantle the long-gun registry and destroy the data was a choice that Parliament was permitted to make under the Constitution.
The Firearms Act, which was established in 1995, created a comprehensive scheme requiring the holders of all firearms, including long guns, to obtain licenses and register their guns. It also made it a criminal offense to possess an unregistered firearm. In 2012 the government enacted the Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act, which ordered the destruction of all information that was stored to date on long-gun certificates and licenses in Canada. The Quebec government objected when the bill was tabled in 2011, arguing that it wanted to start its own registry and planned to use the data that had already been collected. Quebec won a challenge in Quebec Superior Court [official website] in 2012 when the judge ruled [JURIST report] that the section of the act that called for the destruction of records interfered with the province’s right to exercise powers within its own jurisdiction, and was therefore unconstitutional. However, the Quebec Court of Appeals [official website] later overturned that decision, ruling the federal government has the jurisdiction not only to legislate a gun registry, but also to eliminate one.