By Josh Johnson
With Bruce Montague's recent arrest, the debate over the Firearms Act, formerly known as Bill C-68, has once again heated up.
"There was a day when people kept guns in their vehicles year round, so we certainly need some provision in place to ensure safe storage," says Roger Valley, MP for the Kenora riding. "This being said, we can't continue to pour bags of money into it."
Valley says his government is working to reel in the costs of the program.
"Our government has promised that if we can't get the costs under control then we will re-examine the issue with a free vote in the House of Commons."
In that case, Valley will be looking for input from his constituents.
"I'll be back and talking to the people in the riding," he says. "We have to know what everyone is saying. We are aware that there is a very vocal gun lobby in this area, but I want to ensure that everyone's voice is heard."
While Valley stands behind the principle of the legislation, Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz says the government needs to back away from the registry.
Breitkreuz, who represents the Saskatchewan riding of Yorkton-Melville, has been one of the strongest critics of the legislation since it first appeared in 1994.
"It's a complete waste of our money and focused on the wrong people," says Breitkreuz. "We need our law enforcement officers to go after the criminals in society, not paper criminals. We need to register violent sex offenders, not duck hunters."
While he is against the registry, he does not support Montague's actions.
"I can't support breaking the law," he explains. "I'm a law maker and I believe that this law has to be undone in parliament. The only way to repeal this legislation is to get involved in the political arena and help push the Liberals out of office."
As for those with unregistered guns, they're in a tough spot, notes Breitkreuz.
"Right now they're in a catch 22 situation. The deadline for registering your guns has passed. The government chose not to extend it, so if you come forward now there is a possibility you could be charged. It's a tough spot to be in."
While Montague and his defense team are hoping to use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to challenge the legislation, the Supreme Court of Canada has already looked at the Firearms Act once and the results are not encouraging for gun owners, says a constitutional expert.
In Reference to the Firearms Act (Can.) the Province of Alberta suggested that the gun registry fell outside of the legislative boundaries of the Federal Government.
While the court's decision was not based on the Charter, the language of the decision shows where the court is leaning says Dr. Gerald Baier, a political scientist and constitutional expert with the University of British Columbia.
"Given the composition of the court, the language of the decision, and that they used the Peace Order and Good Government clause to defend the legislation — a provision that the court has been reluctant to accept in the past — there is evidence that they will uphold the legislation," says Baier.
The language shows a court leaning heavily towards gun control.
"While ordinary guns are often used for lawful purposes, they are also used for crime and suicide, and cause accidental death and injury," states the decision. "Guns cannot be divided neatly into two categories - those that are dangerous and those that are not dangerous. All guns are capable of being used in crime. All guns are capable of killing and maiming. It follows that all guns pose a threat to public safety."
It's language like this that will pose the greatest difficulty for Montague's challenge, says Baier.
"The court typically sends signals in their decisions to help them in the future," he explains.
The other challenge is finding a strong enough violation of rights.
"We don't have a second amendment in our constitution and there really isn't anything that is close to that type of language," he explains. "I don't think you could make a Section 7 argument (life, liberty and security of the person). The court has been very reluctant to expand security of the person."
Even if a violation is found, the court has to decide whether or not the law has a valid and pressing purpose and impairs a right minimally. If that is the case they can uphold the legislation, despite rights being found.
"I think they would be ready and willing to say that the impairment is minimal," says Baier. "They would likely find that provisions requiring the registration of guns do not pose an undue burden. The only real question would be 'is Canada any safer'? In a case like this, they would probably defer to the judgement of parliament."
It is the safety question where Breitkreuz sees a glimmer of hope.
"There are 131,000 people prohibited from owning a gun in Canada right now," he explains. "If you're a law abiding citizen you have to report a change of address to the government. These 131,000 don't have to. That is a big double-standard."
If anything, the court would likely recommended the government broaden the legislation to include those prohibited individuals, says Baier.
While it is possible that Montague could avoid jail time due to violations of unreasonable search and seizure provisions, forcing the registry to be scrapped is unlikely, he says.
"I don't think there are convincing enough arguments to throw out the whole legislation," he notes. "In terms of remedies, there are a variety, including reading down, to give a less broad interpretation, or removing provisions, but to make the entire legislation of no force and effect is probably unlikely."
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