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Tyler Shandro announced on Monday that he has sent a letter to the head of the RCMP in Alberta, Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, advising him that confiscating prohibited weapons is 'not an objective, priority or goal' of the province.Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s Justice Minister has directed the RCMP not to enforce Ottawa’s firearms buyback program and has plans to join a series of lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of banning certain guns.

Tyler Shandro announced on Monday that he has sent a letter to the head of the RCMP in Alberta, Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, advising him that confiscating prohibited weapons is “not an objective, priority or goal” of the province and that the force should refuse to participate.

He said the directive was in response to a letter he received from federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, which sought provincial support to implement the buyback program.

“Alberta will not assist the federal government in this or any federal effort to strip lawfully obtained personal property from a resident,” Mr. Shandro told reporters. “This is not about keeping our community safe. It’s pure politics from the perspective of the federal government.”

Since May, 2020, Ottawa has prohibited more than 1,500 different models of assault-style firearms from being used or sold in Canada and has committed to a buyback program that would compensate affected owners and businesses. An amnesty order is in place until October, 2023, to give gun owners time to comply with the law.

Mr. Mendicino’s letter, sent in August, indicated that the federal government intends to begin collecting prohibited firearms by the end of this year and will require help from all levels of government to minimize delays or complications.

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Audrey Champoux, press secretary to the federal minister, said it is disappointing that the Alberta government made this announcement before the full plan was released.

“We’ll continue working with law-enforcement officials and provincial and territorial partners, industry leaders and law-abiding gun owners to implement our plan in accordance with applicable Criminal Code and firearms laws, which the courts have repeatedly held falls within federal jurisdiction,” she said.

In a subsequent letter to Mr. Mendicino, Mr. Shandro said Alberta would not provide any resources to help enforce the program and called the legislation offensive to responsible gun owners. Mr. Shandro wrote that there are an estimated 30,000 firearms that would need to be confiscated in Alberta.

“We believe that Public Safety Canada does not have the capacity, wherewithal, or the resources to seriously attempt this effort. And, much like the long-gun registry, we believe your efforts will fail in the face of opposition from the public,” he wrote.

Mr. Shandro said that if the federal government instructs Mounties to enforce the firearms ban, the province will submit a formal dispute under its policing agreement with Ottawa. This would require both levels of government to engage in good-faith discussions in an attempt to resolve the matter.

Mr. Shandro also announced that the province would seek to intervene in six ongoing legal challenges of the firearms bans. “As intervenors, we would be able to offer the court arguments based on the specific challenges that the federal legislation has created for Alberta’s law-abiding firearms community,” said Mr. Shandro.

The Liberal government’s ban on certain firearms has drawn harsh criticism from the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, and debate on the issue has made its way into the United Conservative Party leadership race.

Candidates Danielle Smith, former leader of the Wildrose, and Alberta MLA Todd Loewen said earlier in their campaigns that they would consider directing RCMP to not enforce federal gun laws. Brian Jean has also campaigned on the promise to challenge gun laws in court.

Ms. Smith said in a statement that she applauded Mr. Shandro’s decision to refuse enforcement and said it closely aligns with her proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act, which she has described as a way to “affirm” Alberta’s authority to override federal laws that MLAs believe violate provincial jurisdiction. She said the buyback program is a “misguided and unconstitutional federal policy.”