Alberta politicians called the recent federal gun ban “an overreach,” and that it goes after “easy targets” of responsible gun owners instead of “drug gangs and criminals.”
Premier Jason Kenney, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Michaela Glasgo, MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat said they’ve heard complaints from Albertans who are frustrated with the federal rules.
“While some people in faraway places like Toronto may not understand the reality, hundreds of thousands of Albertans simply use firearms as a part of everyday life,” Kenney said.
“Those law-abiding Albertans should not be used as scapegoats for the actions of criminals by politicians in Ottawa.”
Kenney announced Wednesday that Alberta is creating its own Firearms Advisory Committee to provide recommendations on how Alberta can better assert areas of provincial jurisdiction.
It will have 12 members, including rural Alberta politicians, retired law enforcement officers, farmers, hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts, Kenney said.
Alberta, along with Saskatchewan, has also announced it will be appointing its own provincial chief firearms officer, joining Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The federal government sets gun laws, but the provinces enforce them.
Alberta Justice is also working on a plan with the Calgary Police Service, Edmonton Police Service, RCMP and Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams to create a firearms testing process at the existing lab in Calgary and the facility being planned in Edmonton.
Currently, police forces outside Calgary rely on the RCMP’s national forensic laboratory and the wait can be up to eight months, Kenney said.
Schweitzer said the Alberta lab would have the capacity to test up to 750 firearms each year and that currently, Alberta does about 600 tests a year.
He said establishing a provincial lab to expand testing capacity in Alberta would cost about a half a million dollars. The money would come from ALERT funding in the province.
“The federal government has introduced hasty and ill-thought-out measures that penalize law-abiding gun owners while doing little to stop criminals who traffic or use illegal firearms,” Kenney said.
“The vast sums of money Ottawa will spend would be far better used to pursue the smugglers and drug gangs that plague our society. In Alberta, we will take action to protect Albertans, prosecute criminals and deter illegal gun crime and trafficking rather than persecuting law-abiding citizens,” he said.
The Alberta government explained a legal requirement for prosecuting gun crimes involves proving that a seized weapon meets the Criminal Code definition of a firearm by having a barrel and the ability to fire a projectile capable of causing serious injury or death.
Kenney said the federal government’s move highlights the “huge gulf” between federal and provincial approaches to combating crime and responsible firearms ownership.
“While Ottawa spends hundreds of millions of dollars targeting law-abiding gun owners, our government is investing in a firearms examination unit to conduct criminal firearms testing so prosecutions are not put in jeopardy by lengthy delays,” Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said.
“The measures we are taking today will show Ottawa that a responsible firearms policy targets criminals and illegal gun traffickers and not lawful gun use.”
On May 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an immediate ban on a range of assault-style guns. The ban sees a total of 1,500 assault-style firearms, including the AR-15 rifle and the Ruger Mini-14. The weapons can’t be legally sold, used or imported.
There will be a two-year amnesty while the government develops a program to allow current owners to be compensated for turning in the weapons or to be allowed to keep them.
But “assault” or “assault-style” is not a legal weapons classification in Canada.
Gun groups argue the rules are inconsistent, effectively targeting firearms based on how they look rather than because of what they can do, while leaving some nearly-identical weapons legal.
In an email to Global News, Mary-Liz Power, press secretary for federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said “provinces hold the right to appoint their own the chief firearms officer if they wish to do so.”
“At this time, five provinces have taken this step, and we continue to support their right to appoint their own CFO,” she said. “If the province does not wish to exercise this right, the federal government may do so in their place.
“We know that law-abiding gun owners are very responsible people, and they have our respect. The prohibition of assault weapons brought in on May 1, 2020 follows extensive public consultation between October 2018 and spring 2019, including eight in-person roundtable sessions across the country in both urban and rural communities, an online questionnaire, written submissions from stakeholders and meetings with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous communities.”
Power said the guns that have been reclassified as being prohibited “were selected for their tactical military design and large magazine capacity.”
“The classification process for firearms has long taken place through order in council,” she added. “The Conservative Party, under Stephen Harper, used orders in council to downgrade the classification of several dangerous weapons just before the 2015 election without any public consultation.”
Gun control advocates say the recent federal cabinet order doesn’t go far enough.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her caucus supports initiatives to reduce crime, particularly rural crime, but questioned if the new advisory panel is designed to meet that goal.
“[It will be] helpful, I’m sure, but it’s very homogenous,” said Notley.
“It doesn’t include on it the people across the province who have significant public safety concerns, whose communities are very troubled by rises in gun violence, and who want to see meaningful strategies to reduce availability of guns.
“You’re not going to have a very effective advisory committee if you insist upon turning up the volume of your own echo chamber.”
Power said the Liberals’ “assault weapons ban” is one of several measures the government is taking to reduce gun violence. She noted the government is also investing money into fighting gun and gang violence and into the Canada Border Service Agency to help keep illegal guns from entering the country.
— With files from Dean Bennett, Canadian Press, and Amanda Connelly, Global News