Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ottawa turns "deaf ear" to Quebec on gun registry data, crime and prison costs

By Rheal Seguin, Globe and Mail, November 17, 2011
Next month will mark the twenty-second anniversary of the École polytechnique massacre. It will also mark an important setback for gun control in Canada.

On December 6, 1989 Marc Lépine entered the University of Montreal’s engineering school armed with a semi-automatic rifle and shot 28 people. He targeted female students and killed 14 women before taking his own life.
The horrific shooting mobilized public opinion towards violence against women. But it also set in motion a nation-wide campaign for tougher gun control measures which lead to the adoption in 1995 of the Firearms Act under which the controversial gun registry was later created.

So it comes as no surprise that in the wake of the Montreal massacre followed by the shootings at Concordia University in 1992 and Dawson College in 2006 that support for the gun registry remained highest in Quebec.
And it is with the backing of a majority of Quebeckers as well as unanimous support of the Quebec National Assembly, that the province’s Public Security Minister Robert Dutil will appear Thursday before the Commons public safety committee to plead with the Conservative government to hand over all the data held on long guns in the registry.
Premier Jean Charest argued recently in the National Assembly that his government owed it to the families of the victims of the Montreal massacre to lead the fight to maintain the gun registry. And while Mr. Dutil reiterated on Wednesday that he will pursue the battle, Quebec understands all too well that the national gun registry was on the way out. The only issue that mattered now was to protect the data on Quebec gun owners so that the province could use it to set-up its own registry.

However his federal counterpart Vic Toews has turned a deaf ear to Quebec’s plea to safeguard the data. During the Commons committee hearings this week Mr. Toews reiterated his government’s decision to destroy all records on long guns in the registry.

“The data is the registry,” Mr. Toews said in defending his government’s commitment to scrap the records.
On issues relating to crime and justice, Quebec has locked horns with the right-wing conservative ideology adopted by the Harper government. In fact it will be the second time this month that a Quebec minister was taking the unusual step of appearing before a Commons committee in Ottawa to convince the Conservative government to amend a bill.
Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier appeared before a Commons committee two weeks ago in a bid to convince the Harper government to amend provisions of the omnibus crime bill that included tougher treatment of young offenders.
On both files, the Quebec government is spot on, on the side of both science and reason.
With respect to the "data" on the gun registry, both federal and provincial governments contributed to the collection, sorting and storage of the data, the same data that the Quebec government now wants to serve as the base for its own gun registry. And there is no question that the federal government owes the Quebec people and government the courtesy to provide them that data, as well as any other province seeking to establish its own gun registry. It is the shrill cry of the red-necks in Canada, the Canadian equivalent to the frontier red-necks in the U.S., that is prompting the federal government to scrap the registry. They are playing to their political base, in what Jeffrey Simpson has dubbed, "it's politics-all-the-time" with this government.
On the submission by the Quebec Justice Minister, once again the data on crime reduction supports his petition that in lengthening prison terms, and increasing sentences, the federal government is playing politics and also playing sycophant to its political base, in presenting a "tough-on-crime" bill to the House of Commons.
Quebec is the most socially advanced province in Canada, especially with respect to support for families, and support for parents along with several other measures that make it a "people-friendly" government, as opposed to the "tin-ear" of the federal conservatives on domestic policy.
It is, however, a little unsettling that all this noise is coming from Quebec government ministers in Ottawa, and not from the Opposition, either the NDP or the Liberals. After all, politics is a clash of perceptions, and both opposition parties need to strengthen their bases in Quebec, if they are to have any hope of forming a government in 2015, and these two bills will be long remembered by Quebec voters, certainly well past 2015, the date of the next election.
Snubbing Quebec will prove, we can only hope, to be one of the measures that helps to derail the conservatives when they come calling for votes in the next election. Placating Quebec with two or three additional seats in the House of Commons is not adequate substitution for authentic listening and responding to their legitimate petitions.
For the federal government to refuse to compensate both Ontario and Quebec for the significant increases in cost of prison operation and construction is another faux pas, a "sin of omission" for which the people of Ontario and Quebec will likely repay with withdrawal of support in 2015.
Let's keep the erosion of conservative government policies and politics rolling...right up until the vote in 2015!

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