A showdown between the federal government and the province of Quebec over data contained in the former federal gun registry got a little more interesting Tuesday.
A Quebec Superior Court judge gave the federal government 30 days to hand over all gun registry data on Quebec residents to the provincial government, saying the federal government cannot act unilaterally to erase the data.
The judge, Marc-Andre Blanchard, said in his 42-page verdict that the federal government was violating principles of Canadian federalism: since all levels of government co-operated in collecting the data, one party can’t arbitrarily decide to take action.
“There is a complex web between the federal, provincial and municipal (governments),” he wrote. That web meant the firearms registry “could not exist without the close and constant co-operation of everyone. … The implementation of the firearms registry — although under the federal power to legislate criminal law — creates a partnership with Quebec, particularly with regard to the data contained in the registry.”
The federal government didn’t take much time to reply — and when it did, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews clearly wasn’t pleased.
“I am disappointed with today’s ruling and will thoroughly review the decision,” Toews said in a statement. “The will of Parliament and Canadians has been clear. We do not want any form of a wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry. … Our Conservative government will continue to fight against any measures that needlessly target law-abiding hunters, farmers and sport shooters.”
An admirable package of political bluster, but not really anything that addresses the point at hand.
While the feds may be frustrated by the decision, thinking they and they alone can decide to dispose of legally collected data, the verdict makes an interesting point: it may suit federal governments to view their will as paramount, yet this is a nation built on recognizing that we are not a republic, but one that exercises co-operative federalism with a distinct set of interconnected powers and responsibilities. We have a variety of interrelated elected governments, and that means no administration can claim it is the sole public representative.
Judge Blanchard’s position is almost certain to be challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada — which is exactly the process that should be followed.
But there should also be some recognition by the federal government that it doesn’t get to act in isolation.
For example, we have a federal administration that claims it supports tough-on-crime legislation — yet at the same time doesn’t actually provide the financial support to provinces who have to carry the fiscal freight for additional prison spaces. In some circles, you might call that lip service — or more to the point, passing the buck.
If, as Judge Blanchard suggests, the federal government is in a partnership with provincial administrations, that same federal government should probably learn to be a better partner.