Opposition Grows to Canada’s Latest Gun Grab

Gun Rights

More than two years ago, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an immediate ban on firearms and devices classified as “assault weapons.” Gun owners were told they could continue to possess (but not use) their property until April 30, 2022, when the amnesty expired, and were promised the government would pay “fair compensation” for their legally acquired firearms.

Shortly before the amnesty expired, Trudeau’s government extended the end date to October 30, 2023, still without disclosing the details of the confiscation and compensation program.

The government has since moved forward with sweeping new gun control measures, beginning with a “freeze” of handgun sales and transfers and next a proposed expansion of “prohibited” firearms to include semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of accepting an external magazine with a capacity of more than five rounds. These, unlike the 2020 gun ban, lack a definite government commitment to compensation.

Several Canadian jurisdictions continue to oppose the federal gun bans, calling them ineffective and politically motivated infringements on the rights and freedoms of responsible citizens. Citing stretched police budgets (and perhaps mindful of the fiscal horror story the Liberal Party’s failed long-gun registry turned out to be), they have placed the federal government on notice that provincial resources cannot be used to enforce the federal confiscation and “buyback.”

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A recent press release by the governments of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan described the latest federal gun grab as “criminaliz[ing] hunters, farmers and target shooters who collectively own hundreds of thousands of firearms that could soon be prohibited.” Alberta’s Minister of Justice, Tyler Shandro, pointed out that the “federal Liberals claimed that they were never going after hunters, farmers and target shooters—they lied. This is clearly part of a push to ban legal firearms ownership altogether.” Christine Tell, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety, warned that “Saskatchewan will not stand idly by while the federal government yet again attacks law-abiding citizens instead of focusing on crime.”

True to her word, at the beginning of December Ms. Tell sponsored a bill which lists, among its objectives, the establishment of an orderly process that “protects public safety and the safety of Saskatchewan’s lawful firearms owners from the increased risk presented by the seizure, storage and possible destruction or deactivation of those firearms.”

As introduced, Bill 117, the Saskatchewan Firearms Act, imposes conditions and restrictions on the confiscation of firearms by any “seizure agent,” defined as “a person who is engaged by the Crown in right of Canada, whether as an employee, agent or otherwise” to track, seize, store or destroy certain firearms for the purposes of enforcing a specified law. The bill would prohibit a person from acting as a seizure agent without a provincially-issued license; to qualify for licensing, approved training, insurance coverage, privacy/record-keeping and other requirements in Part 4 of the bill would have to be met. Among other things, “seizure agents” would be prohibited from having any identification on their uniforms or vehicles containing the word “police,” or carrying a badge or insignia that resembles that of a municipal police service in Saskatchewan or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The minister would be empowered to investigate complaints made about seizure agents, and failures to comply with the requirements in the bill would be crimes punishable by fines of up to $20,000 (for an individual), imprisonment of up to six months, or both.

Under Section 5-3 of the bill, “if a firearm is seized from an owner pursuant to or for the purposes of enforcing a specified law, the person who conducts the seizure of the firearm must pay to the owner full compensation for the fair market value of the firearm,” as determined by a provincial commissioner. Once that amount is set, the firearm owner must be paid within 45 days. Section 5-11 directs that a “seizure agent” cannot destroy or deactivate a seized firearm without first receiving a clearance notice from the commissioner. Finally, municipalities, police services or boards of a police service must have the written approval of the minister before entering into any agreement with the federal government that includes funding to support the enforcement of a law that on or after May 2020, prescribes a firearm as restricted or prohibited.

The bill received first reading at the beginning of the month.

Individual Canadians are also making their opposition known. Brendan Hanley, a Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP) representing Yukon, where hunting and trapping are critical for many communities, said “I’ve had more emails on this subject than on anything I’ve received over the last year and a bit,” adding Liberal MPs in rural ridings “are also upset about this and upset about the effect that this could have on their constituents. And, that they they’re hearing loud and clear from their own constituents too.” The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which urged interested individuals to use an online “call to action” form to contact elected representatives about the proposed law, advised that “due to the overwhelming use of the form,” the service was temporarily unavailable.     

On December 3, National Hockey League (NHL) player Carey Price, the goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, likely spoke for an untold number of Canadians in a message he posted on social media. A photo shows him dressed in hunting gear, holding a firearm, with the text:

I love my family, I love my country and I care for my neighbour. I am not a criminal or a threat to society. What @justinpjtrudeau is trying to do is unjust. I support the @ccfr_ccdaf to keep my hunting tools. Thank you for listening to my opinion.  

Canadians, said Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre (MP, Carleton) “do not want to ban hunters; they want to stop criminals.”

In a seeming attempt to manage the backlash, federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino recently made a yes-no-maybe acknowledgement that affected gun owners should qualify for government compensation. “We have not yet made a final decision on that because we do not yet know what the final outcome of either the amendments or the bill is, but it is very important to me that we are seen to be fair and equitable to law-abiding gun owners.” At the same time, though, he maintained that the objective was to ban just “guns that were designed for wartime, for the battlefield…[t]hat is the judgment of this government. It is the intent of this government to focus on those guns and not hunting rifles.” (Mendicino is the same public official who, last October, when pressed by his political colleagues about the costs of implementing the 2020 confiscation law, declined to answer but stated the government intends “to be very transparent about the costing around the buyback program.”)  

There was more of the same empty, muddled rhetoric from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who last week commented that his government was continuing to “move forward with strong, smart gun control” that “respects law abiding gun owners” and won’t apply to “hunting rifles or shotguns.” He pledged to “make sure we’re not capturing weapons that are primarily hunting weapons,” but the value of that commitment, already made in 2020, can be judged against the government’s actions since that time.    

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