By Tim Naumetz.
Published:May 31, 2021
A top federal court judge has ruled that background documents behind the Trudeau government’s ban of more than 1,500 models of semi-automatic rifles last year are cabinet secrets that cannot be disclosed in open court.
But, in what Associate Chief Justice Jocelyn Gagné described as a partial win for more than 20 firearm owners, businesses and a prominent new Canadian gun lobby, the court battle isn’t over yet.
Citing several precedents in previous court decisions involving the historic claim of cabinet secrecy in government actions, Judge Gagné ordered the government to provide the material to the court under seal so she can decide “whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs its secrecy.”
General descriptions of the documents sought through six separate challenges indicate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet want to withhold a raft of documents “purportedly” in the possession of the federal attorney general, cabinet, the RCMP “and numerous departments of the Government of Canada,” the ruling states.
Associate Justice Gagné earlier rejected requests for the background documents held by the RCMP. The ruling dated May 27 was critical of the delay by the government while responding to the document requests.
A government description of the documents over which cabinet was claiming privilege includes material going back to April and March 2020, well before the sudden announcement of the sweeping firearm prohibition on May 1.
The timing of the announcement, almost two weeks after a horrific shooting in central Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead, prompted opponents to claim the ban was a direct result of the shooting attacks, and that the government was exploiting the tragedy to get support for its firearm stance over the past several years.
The cabinet order outlawed more than 50,000 rifles and other weapons and prompted a furious reaction from rural and urban gun owners across Canada.
The Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR), which gathered several-hundred thousand dollars from gun owners for legal fees as it led the challenge, posted a headline on its website dubbing the decision a “Win for Team CCFR.”
The CCFR legal team led the attempt to force the government into releasing the cabinet documents. Associate Justice Gagné granted costs to the applicants challenging the government.