Reference re Firearms Act
|Reference Re Firearms Act|
|Hearing: February 21, 22, 2000
Judgment: June 15, 2000
|Citations|| 1 S.C.R. 783, 2000 SCC 31|
|Prior history||none (Reference question)|
|The regulation of firearms is a matter of public safety and so is in the authority of the federal government under the criminal law power.|
|Chief Justice: Beverley McLachlin
Puisne Justices: Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, Charles Gonthier, Frank Iacobucci, John C. Major, Michel Bastarache, Ian Binnie, Louise Arbour, Louis LeBel
|Unanimous reasons by||The Court|
|RJR-MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General),  3 S.C.R. 199; R. v. Hydro-Québec,  3 S.C.R. 213; s. 91(27) Constitution Act, 1867.|
Reference Re Firearms Act is a leading constitutional decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on the division of powers regarding firearms legislation and the Canadian Firearms Registry. A unanimous Court held that the federal Firearms Act was constitutionally valid under the federal criminal law power.
In 1995, the government of Canada passed the controversial Firearms Act, which required gun owners to have them registered and to obtain licences for them. The government stated that the law was passed under the authority of the federal government's criminal law power. The Firearms Act was closely integrated with the federal Criminal Code, so that failures to comply with the requirements of the Firearms Act could in some cases be prosecuted as offences under the Criminal Code.
The government of Alberta submitted a reference question to the Alberta Court of Appeal to determine whether the Act was in relation to matters under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The government of Alberta argued that the law was in relation to personal property and thus was a matter in the jurisdiction of the province. The federal government, however, argued that the law was in the realm of criminal law, which is under federal jurisdiction.
Opinion of the Court
The unanimous Court held that the pith and substance of the Act was in relation to "public safety" which was a matter within the criminal law power of the federal government. The Court cited the Margarine Reference for the requirements of criminal law and noted the danger of firearms, even if in some cases they could be used beneficially. Indeed, the regulations were judged to promote responsible firearm ownership, and the Court went on to argue that there would be a moral danger if firearms are used irresponsibly (morality is an element in criminal law, as established in the Margarine Reference), although the Court said that it was not just a matter of morality that gave Parliament the authority to pass this legislation.
The Court also noted that firearms have been subject to federal regulation for years and that the government of Alberta could not reasonably challenge many of the earlier laws.
Finally, the Court rejected all arguments that the law was too expensive or disadvantageous to rural regions, as these were matters for Parliament to consider rather than legal issues liable to judicial review.
- Quebec (AG) v Canada (AG): a follow-up case
- Gun politics in Canada
- List of Supreme Court of Canada cases (McLachlin Court)
- Reference re Firearms Act (Can.) 2000 SCC 31,  1 SCR 783 (15 June 2000)