OTTAWA -- Canada's controversial
gun-registration law, enacted in the wake of a
massacre of 14 young women by a gunman a decade ago in Montreal, was upheld
unanimously by the Supreme Court on Thursday.
The high court ruled 9-0 in favor of the law -- one of the toughest measures in the world --
saying the federal government has the power to pass criminal laws, and that means it also
can pass laws to protect public safety.
"While ordinary guns are often used for lawful purposes, they are also used for crime and
suicide and cause accidental death and injury," the court said. "All guns are capable
of killing and maiming. It follows that all guns are a threat to public safety. As such, their
control falls within the criminal law power."
Now the federal government faces the challenge of getting reluctant gun owners to
comply with the 1995 law and open hostility to the measure by some provincial
The law required that all gun owners be licensed by the end of this year and all
firearms be registered by Jan. 1, 2003. Canada has required licenses and
registration for handguns since 1934, but the 1995 law added rifles and shotguns.
The government estimates there are 7 million firearms in Canada, one for every four
people, although some estimates run as high as 20 million, more than one for every two
Canadians. Americans own an estimated 250 million guns, nearly one for every person
in the country.
Federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan issued a plea in Parliament after the ruling: "I
would ask all Canadians who are firearms owners and users to comply."
But Stockwell Day, one of the candidates vying to lead the Canadian Alliance, the
largest federal opposition party, pledged to scrap the law if he becomes prime minister.
"The court battle ...has ended," he said. "Let the political fight begin."
The gun-registration issue was brought before the Supreme Court by eight of
Canada's 13 provincial and territorial governments. In a jurisdictional dispute, the
provinces had argued gun registration was a provincial matter and that the federal
government had overstepped its authority.
Despite the court challenge, the federal government had moved ahead, establishing
the registration system and running TV ads reminding people to register their weapons.
The decision to tighten the country's gun laws was prompted by the massacre of 14 female
students by a gunman at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique in December 1989, an event
that galvanized gun opponents.
The case was being watched in the United States, which has no national gun registry.