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Gun owners hold signs criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they participate in a rally organized by the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights against the government's new gun regulations, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sept. 12, 2020.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

An Ottawa-based staffing company has cancelled a federal contract related to Ottawa’s proposed rifle buyback program after facing a barrage of social-media abuse from people opposed to the government’s gun policies.

The online fracas was condemned by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who is overseeing the government’s efforts to ban and take possession of tens of thousands of semi-automatic rifles in the hands of legal gun owners.

“It is unacceptable that the gun lobby has promoted threats, intimidation and harassment of people who are just trying to do their jobs,” said Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blair. “This is reckless and completely unacceptable.”

While the government decreed the ban on May 1, phase two of the plan – to purchase the prohibited guns from their owners at “fair market value” – has proven more difficult. A tender issued in August seeking a major consulting firm to help launch and administer the buyback program was cancelled when an acceptable bid failed to materialize. A second tender is open for work on a program that is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

In October, AltisHR, a 150-person staffing agency, won a third much-smaller contract; $60,000 to provide a temporary manager to help draft a management plan for the buyback program.

But the information only became public on Dec. 7, when the government responded to an order paper question from Conservative MP Blaine Calkins.

The 28,000-member Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights (CCFR), which staunchly opposes the ban, posted the response on Twitter and stated AltisHR was “facilitating” the buyback program. Followers of the group, then posted a photo of AltisHR CEO Kathryn Tremblay along with her cellphone number and location of her family cottage.

As she was climbing into bed on the night of Dec. 7, Ms. Tremblay said she began receiving a series of confusing texts and phone calls.

“We’re a neutral staffing company,” she said. “I didn’t have any inkling what it was about. I sent the messages to my team. No one knew anything. We thought it was a hoax. It was only in the morning when we got up and saw the volume of e-mails, texts, calls and posts that I realized what had transpired.”

She interpreted several social-media posts as threats toward herself and her staff, including one tweet addressing the firearms community that read‚ ”Well, you’ve got pictures, place of employment and contact information … you know what to do.”

Another post referred to AltisHR as “filthy trash” next to an image of a book on gun control during the time of Nazi Germany.

Tracey Wilson, CCFR’s vice-president of public affairs, posted pictures of employees of AltisHR, referring to it as “the company hired to take your guns.”

Ms. Tremblay believes the gun-control opponents confused her relatively small contract with the much-larger tender to advise on the design and implementation of the buyback program, something many in the firearms community equate to illegal government confiscation.

“Placing a temp is not equivalent to running a buyback program,” Ms. Tremblay said. “That was a misunderstanding, I’d say.”

To avoid the vitriol, Ms. Tremblay cancelled the contract on Dec. 8 and wrote a message on LinkedIn clarifying the company’s position: “We are not involved in a firearms buyback program, and have no part in it.”

Ms. Wilson said that when she saw some of the more extreme posts, she tried to “call off the dogs” and phoned Ms. Tremblay for more detail on her company’s role. “We had a good conversation,” Ms. Wilson said. “I told her that threats should be forwarded to law enforcement. I take that seriously.”

She also asked her social-media followers to cease any threats against Altis.

“I didn’t ask for that response, I didn’t expect it, I was shocked by it and I called it out,” said Ms. Wilson of the negative posts, many of which have since been deleted. “I don’t condone the way things went down. That’s not what the CCFR stands for.”

At the same time, she said, companies should recognize the political risks of working on the firearms ban. “When somebody takes that contract,” she said, “business will change for them.”

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