The day after Alberta’s justice minister refused the province’s co-operation with the federal gun buyback program, critics say the move politicizes police.
On Monday, Justice Minister and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro said the federal government using the RCMP to confiscate firearms under the gun buyback program “runs contrary to the (Provincial Police Service Agreement)” and told the federal public safety minister the province would not offer its resources for the program.
Temitope Oriola, a University of Alberta criminology and sociology professor, said it’s a “distinctively dangerous proposition.”
“The letter to the RCMP from the justice minister explicitly draws the police service into a political matter,” Oriola said, adding police should not be drawn into politics.
“I am writing to formally advise you that the confiscation program is not an objective, priority or goal of the province or the Provincial Police Service, and nor is such deployment,” Shandro wrote to Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki.
“My sense is that the justice minister does know better, but senses a political opportunity,” the U of A professor said.
Leader of the Opposition Rachel Notley said Monday’s announcement continues the current government’s political resistance to policy decisions coming from Ottawa.
“We know… from the chiefs of police across the country that one of the critical ways we can improve public safety across the country is to reduce the prevalence of military-style assault weapons in our communities – hardly groundbreaking stuff,” Notley said Tuesday.
“What we know as well is that the number of shootings in Calgary are on track to be the highest ever. We know that in Lethbridge shootings are happening at a much more consistent rate.”
Oriola said the premise of the justice minister’s argument – that the federal government is using the gun buyback program to take firearms away from law-abiding citizens – isn’t true.
“We will not tolerate taking officers off the streets in order to confiscate the property of law-abiding firearms owners,” Shandro said Monday.
“It is possible to maintain the gun rights and gun ownership of citizens and also attempt to ensure public safety,” Oriola said. “Both are not mutually exclusive.”
He said it’s troubling Shandro is “muddling the facts.”
“When the justice minister gets involved in these kinds of operational decisions that are, in fact, based on a policy, an explicit policy of the federal government, I believe it politicizes the police service and it is no way to run a police service,” Oriola said.
Shandro said he was advised that the commanding officer of the K Division of RCMP, located in Alberta, “does not support using provincial police resources to administer the firearms confiscation program.”
The RCMP declined to comment on Shandro’s claim. It also declined comment on whether it would comply with any directives from Ottawa to seize guns as part of the buyback program.
Shandro denied he was trying to argue for a provincial police force by demanding the RCMP not follow federal direction if confiscation was needed.
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said the justice minister was “disingenuous” in claiming the latest opposition to federal policing direction has nothing to do with wanting an Alberta version of the Ontario Provincial Police.
“One of the key motivations for an Alberta Police Force is about the enforcement, or lack thereof, of federal legislation. Especially firearms,” Bratt tweeted Tuesday, adding Shandro only requested the RCMP not enforce any proposed confiscations, not Calgary or Edmonton’s police services.
“This isn’t about protecting Alberta from federal intrusions into provincial jurisdiction,” Bratt added. “This is Alberta deciding which federal laws it will enforce and which ones it will not.
“This is picking and choosing.”
Taking aim at certain guns
In May 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on assault-style firearms.
Many of the 1,500 models and variants of the banned firearms have been used by armed forces and law enforcement around the world. Some of the guns on the banned list were used in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting, the 2006 Dawson College shooting and other school shootings in the United States.
“Assault-style firearms designed for military use have no place in Canada,” Trudeau said at the time, saying the removal of those firearms will help limit gun-related violence in the country.
The assault-style rifle ban would become part of the federal government’s broader move to strengthen the country’s gun control laws, including putting a freeze on handguns and adding resources to fight gun smuggling and trafficking.
In August, the federal government consulted the public on a proposed pricing model for the assault-style firearms buyback program, saying it is offering compensation based on market prices. Ottawa is also offering amnesty for owners of the banned assault-style rifles until October 20, 2023.
The federal government has not yet announced the final compensation levels or the compensation process. It has also not announced any confiscations.
‘Important to maintain perspective’
Oriola pointed to the AR-15 – a popular rifle platform that falls under the ban – and the reaction one mother in the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre had to its impacts: wanting the public to see the effects bullets fired from those rifles had on her children’s bodies.
“My point in mentioning that is to emphasize that here we’re talking about a very specific, delimited exercise aimed at a finite number and finite type and models of firearms. This is not a blanket universal ban or buyback of guns,” Oriola said.
“This is about ensuring that these assault-style, high-capacity firearms that have no use in any peaceful and law-abiding society are removed from circulation.
“It’s important that we maintain perspective on that.”