Alberta introduces new firearms legislation in latest pushback against Ottawa gun ban

As of May 2020, more than 1,500 different models of assault-style firearms are banned in Canada. Alberta’s UCP government, which has objected to the policy, is proposing legislation to establish a provincial role in implementing federal policy in Alberta.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Under Alberta’s proposed new gun legislation, Attorney General Tyler Shandro would be given the power to license “seizure agents” and oversee gun-related funding agreements between Ottawa and municipalities — including their police forces.

The Alberta Firearms Act, introduced into the legislature on Tuesday, is the United Conservative government’s latest push against Ottawa’s ban and buyback program aimed at restricting “assault weapons.” Last September, Mr. Shandro ordered the RCMP not to enforce the federal government’s program. Alberta has joined lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of banning certain guns.

If passed, the law would also provide clarity on the provincial chief firearms officer’s role in implementing federal policy and outline compensation expectations for owners of affected guns. To support this regulatory effort, the staff in the Firearms Officer’s Office would grow from 30 to 70 people.

Mr. Shandro told a news conference that the goal is to provide clarity on the province’s role in overseeing firearms regulations, as there is confusion and uncertainty about Ottawa’s overall strategy.

“We are all confused,” said the justice minister. “The law gives us the flexibility to quickly develop these responses and regulations to respond to federal government action.”

As of May 2020, more than 1,500 different models of assault-style firearms are banned in Canada. Canadians who own these firearms have until the end of October to turn them in under an amnesty program.

A federal gun control bill is still under consideration after Liberals withdrew an amendment outlining the definition of guns deemed unsafe for civilian use, drawing criticism from conservatives and firearms advocates who said it would lead to the ban frequently used hunting rifles and shotguns.

Audrey Champoux, press secretary for Federal Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, said in a statement that Alberta was “reckless” in its position on gun policy.

“It is the primary responsibility of any government to protect its citizens, and the Alberta government’s consistent obstruction of sound gun policy is reckless,” Ms. Champoux said.

“Moreover, Canadian courts have repeatedly affirmed that firearms regulation falls directly under federal jurisdiction. Albertans expect their federal and provincial governments to work together to protect their communities and not try to do stunts. Law enforcement will enforce the law.”

Alberta’s bill states that the Attorney General can license individuals or companies to act as “attachment agents” and has the power to renew, vary, suspend or revoke the license under the regulations.

But Mr Shandro said the province doesn’t think “anyone should be involved in being hired as a seizure agent for the seizure program”, effectively making this part of the legislation cosmetic.

He also said there was major concern that municipalities were working with the federal government “to take their money” and hiring city employees as “seizure agents.” He said Alberta did not consult with city leaders – or Indigenous communities – before introducing Tuesday’s bill.

The legislation would require by law that a municipal agency, police service or police commission meet provincial regulatory requirements before accepting funds from Ottawa to “assist in the enforcement of a particular edict.”

Mr Shandro contested the idea that this was a provincial transgression, saying public safety, which falls under their jurisdiction, comes into play with the transport of weapons.

Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said the UCP government’s introduction of her version of this bill accomplishes two goals as Alberta’s general election fast approaches.

“The first is to resist the federal government in a policy area where the federal government’s approach is not particularly popular in Alberta,” said Dr. Young.

“The second thing it accomplishes is that it sends signals to the party base that the government is listening and standing with them on an issue that I think is probably very important to this group.”

Saskatchewan proposed a similar law in December. It is billed as a way to protect firearm owners by establishing licensing requirements for individuals and companies involved in gun seizures, while calling for forensic and ballistic testing and fair compensation for firearms seized. It would also lead to the creation of a regional firearms regulatory system to “promote the safe and responsible use of firearms”.

With a file from The Canadian Press


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