MONTREAL – A Quebec court delivered a stinging rebuke Monday to Canada's conservative federal government over a bill that scrapped a law requiring the registration of rifles and shotguns. The verdict Monday was a victory for gun control activists and came on the heels of a series of high-profile shootings in Canada.
The court accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government of violating the principles of Canadian federalism by refusing to hand over registry data for Quebec. The French-speaking province, where there is a strong current of support for gun control, wants to start its own provincial registry to replace the now-defunct federal one.
Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard gave the federal government 30 days to hand over the registry data for the province. The ruling applies only to Quebec but it is a crucial round in a broader legal battle that is expected to end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.
The federal government, which argues that the long-gun registry unfairly targeted law-abiding hunters, suggested it would appeal the Quebec ruling.
The decision came one week after Quebec was shaken by a deadly shooting at a rally following the election of a new separatist premier. A series of public shooting in Toronto earlier this year raised fears that Canada could be moving closer to U.S. levels of gun violence despite the country's stricter gun control laws.
Prosecutors said the man suspected in the Quebec shooting had several weapons on him and in his car, including a long gun used in the shooting. Richard Henry Bain, who owns a hunting and fishing lodge, had many more guns at home, prosecutors said. The premier-elect, Pauline Marois, was unharmed but one man was killed and another person was wounded.
The federal government introduced legislation last year to scrap the law requiring registration of rifles and shotguns. Canada has long required registration of hand guns, but the long-gun registry law passed in 1995 faced bitter opposition from rural Canada, the Conservative party's base, which considered it an overreaction to the problem of urban crime.
The law took effect in April but Quebec obtained a series of injunctions safeguarding data pertaining to the province.
However, the Harper government has refused to relinquish any data from the registry. It says Quebec can start from scratch if it wants to build its own registry.
But Judge Blanchard ruled that the registry data cannot be viewed as being strictly "federal" and said Quebec has a right to it.
Harper's government criticized the ruling.
"I am disappointed with today's ruling and will thoroughly review the decision," Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a statement. "Our Conservative government will continue to fight against any measures that needlessly target law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters."
Gun control advocates applauded the decision.
"The decision of the court reaffirms the fact that the data on guns is useful, that the province which contributed to collecting it is entitled to keep it and that it is in the interest of public safety to maintain it," the Coalition For Gun Control said in a statement.