On April 5, 2012, Bill C-19, Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, received Royal Assent. This bill amends the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act,to remove the requirement to obtain a registration certificate for firearms that are neither prohibited nor restricted. It also provides for the destruction of existing registries and files relating to the registration of firearms for which a registration certificate will no longer be required.
Faced with the imminent adoption of the new act, the Québec government filed a motion before the Superior Court of Québec on April 3, 2012. The motion sought to have declared unconstitutional the clause providing for the destruction of the registries and files relating to the registration of firearms, and to have the data relating to residents of Québec transferred to Québec.
In a decision handed down September 10, 2012, the Superior Court ruled in favour of Québec. The Court declared of no force or effect section 29 of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, which provides for the destruction of all data contained in the registry. The Court also ordered these data to be transferred to the Québec government. According to the Court, the destruction of all of the registers and files related to the registration of firearms would be contrary to the principles of cooperative federalism.
The federal government appealed the Superior Court ruling. In a judgment rendered on June 27, 2013, the Québec Court of Appeal set aside the judgment of first instance. It upheld the constitutional validity of section 29 of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act, which it believes only abolishes a registry that, in addition, was validly created. The Court of Appeal further stressed that cooperative federalism cannot be used as a basis for finding that a statutory provision is constitutionally invalid. The Québec government decided to appeal this decision before the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a 5-4 split ruling on March 27, 2015, the Supreme Court concluded that section 29 of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act does not override the powers of Parliament in the area of criminal law. According to the majority of the judges, it is a valid exercise within the federal Parliament’s legislative authority, and the principle of cooperative federalism cannot be invoked to limit the scope of this authority or to impose any obligation to act.
Among the dissenting judges were three from Québec, who deemed section 29 invalid. In their opinion, on one hand, the pith and substance of this section falls under the provinces’ jurisdiction over property and civil rights and, on the other hand, the extent of its encroachment on provincial powers would not allow application of the ancillary powers doctrine. Lastly, the dissenting judges believe that the principle of cooperative federalism should have required the federal government, in the context of the federal-provincial partnership with respect to firearms control, to provide to the Québec government the opportunity to acquire the data before choosing to destroy it.
For more information on this case, please consult the following documents: