Feds are hesitant to disclose 'true cost' of gun 'buyback' scheme

Internal documents from a December 2019 presentation by Justice Canada put the costs of confiscating 'military-style assault rifles' at $1.8 billion — up from the $400 million to $600 million touted by then-public safety minister Bill Blair last federal election.

Feds are hesitant to disclose 'true cost' of gun 'buyback' scheme
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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The feds have changed their minds repeatedly on the cost of the stalled gun 'buyback' program — so much so that a decision on how best to proceed will come following the next general election.

Internal government documents from a December 2019 presentation by Justice Canada put the combined administrative and compensation costs of confiscating "military-style assault rifles" at $1.8 billion — up from the $400 million to $600 million touted by then public safety minister Bill Blair last federal election.

"Amendments to the classification regulations and a new amnesty order could be brought into force in the short-term (six months) as they do not require legislation," reads page 10 of the PowerPoint presentation.

However, more than three years after the original announcement, federal estimates on expropriation costs to taxpayers have yet to be publicly disclosed. Matter of fact, it requires a new implementation regime "beyond any precedent" that operates "outside existing authorities of departments and agencies." 

In a December 2019 Privy Council Office memo, officials again updated their initial projections, pegging the preliminary costs between $850 million to $1 billion. "Of note, the costing could also fluctuate, as the number of non-restricted firearms could be higher than the proxy used in the costing assessment,” according to an unredacted portion of the memo, under the heading UPDATE — Firearms.

Despite initial flirtations with making the 'buyback' program voluntary, public safety minister Marco Mendicino received marching orders to compel "owners to sell banned assault weapons back to the government for destruction or have them rendered inoperable at the government’s expense."

Mendicino tabled Bill C-21 in May 2022 to formalize the order-in-council that reclassified thousands of firearms as 'prohibited' in May 2020. It remains under committee consideration in the Senate. 

2021 report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) put the compensation cost of the federal gun grab as high as $756 million — a joint estimate from the feds and the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association (CSAAA), who estimate that retailers will lose almost $1 billion in inventory that can’t be sold or returned to suppliers due to the Order-In-Council.

Last November, Simon Fraser University Professor Gary Mauser claimed confiscation costs could surmise another $1 billion in addition to the PBO’s $756 million estimate, citing the sheer number of 'prohibited' rifles set for confiscation. However, the report could not determine how many firearms Canadians would actually surrender. 

In addition, the report did not provide a preliminary estimate on how many firearms the regime would confiscate or their "fair market value." According to the Ministry of Public Safety, they estimate that approximately 150,000 firearms would be confiscated, whereas the CSAAA said the total nears 518,000 firearms. 

Mauser told the National Post the federal government appears hesitant in releasing the true costs of the 'buyback' program, noting it would be prohibitively expensive to confiscate hundreds of thousands of firearms. He pegged confiscation costs could range from $1.6 billion to $5 billion — for a $6.756 billion total to operate the confiscation regime and compensate firearm owners.

"The truth is [...] the government doesn’t know how to collect the newly banned guns," said Mauser, noting the internal presentation to Justice Canada contains no justification for the $1.8 billion figure.

"Telling the truth would destroy their narrative," he added. 

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  • By Sheila Gunn Reid

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