Under new firearms legislation proposed in Alberta, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro would be granted powers to license “seizure agents” and oversee gun-related funding agreements between Ottawa and municipalities – including their police forces.
The Alberta Firearms Act, introduced in the legislature on Tuesday, is the latest push by the United Conservative government against Ottawa’s ban and buyback program aimed at restricting “assault-style” weapons. Last September, Mr. Shandro directed the RCMP not to enforce the federal government’s program. Alberta has joined lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of banning certain guns.
If passed, the legislation would also provide clarity on the role of the province’s chief firearms officer in enacting federal policy and outline compensation expectations for owners of affected weapons. To aid in these regulatory efforts, staffing in the office of the firearms officer would grow from 30 to 70 people.
Mr. Shandro said at a news conference that the goal is to provide clarity on the province’s role in overseeing firearms regulations because there is confusion and uncertainty with Ottawa’s overarching strategy.
“We’re all confused,” the Justice Minister said. “The act gives us the flexibility to quickly develop these responses and regulations to respond to the federal government’s actions.”
More than 1,500 different models of assault-style firearms have been banned in Canada since May, 2020. Canadians who possess these firearms have until the end of October to turn them in under an amnesty program.
A federal gun-control bill remains under review after the Liberals withdrew an amendment outlining the definition of guns considered unsafe for civilian use amid criticism from Conservatives and firearms advocates, who said it would lead to the prohibition of commonly-used hunting rifles and shotguns.
Audrey Champoux, press secretary to federal Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, said in a statement that Alberta is acting “recklessly” in its position on gun-related policies.
“It is the primary responsibility of any government to keep their citizens safe, and the Government of Alberta’s consistent obstruction of common-sense gun policies is reckless,” Ms. Champoux said.
“Moreover, Canada’s courts have repeatedly confirmed that regulating firearms falls squarely within federal jurisdiction. Albertans expect their federal and provincial governments to work together to protect their communities, not try to pull stunts. Law enforcement will enforce the law.”
Alberta’s bill states that the Justice Minister would be able to issue a license to individuals or businesses to act as “seizing agents” and has authority to renew, amend, suspend or cancel the license in accordance with the regulations.
Yet, Mr. Shandro said the province doesn’t think “there should be anyone involved in being engaged as a seizure agent for the confiscation program,” effectively making that part of the legislation cosmetic.
He also said there is great concern that municipalities are engaging with the federal government “to take their money” and hire city employees as “confiscation agents.” He said Alberta did not consult with city leaders – or Indigenous communities – before introducing Tuesday’s bill.
The legislation would make it law that a municipal entity, police service or police commission meets the province’s regulatory requirements before accepting funding from Ottawa to “support the enforcement of a specified enactment.”
Mr. Shandro pushed back at the idea that this is provincial overreach and said public safety, which is under their jurisdiction, comes into play with the movement of weapons.
Lisa Young, a political scientist with the University of Calgary, said that as the Alberta general election fast approaches, the UCP government’s introduction of their version of this bill accomplishes two objectives.
“The first is to push back against the federal government in a policy area where the federal government’s approach is not terribly popular in Alberta,” Dr. Young said.
“The second thing that it accomplishes is that it sends signals to the party base that the government is listening and onside with them on an issue that I think is probably quite salient for that group.”
Saskatchewan proposed a similar piece of legislation in December. It is billed as a way to protect firearms owners by establishing licensing requirements for individuals and businesses involved in seizing weapons, while requiring forensic and ballistic testing and fair compensation for confiscated firearms. It would also lead to the creation of a provincial firearms regulatory system to “promote the safe and responsible use of firearms.”
With a file from The Canadian Press