Saskatchewan Firearms Act 'unanimously passes' second reading

Public Safety Minister Christine Tell sent a letter to the Saskatchewan RCMP, stressing she would not provide provincial policing resources to aid the federal confiscation program.

Saskatchewan Firearms Act 'unanimously passes' second reading
The Canadian Press / Michael Bell
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Bill 117, the Saskatchewan Firearms Act, unanimously passed second reading at the provincial legislature on Monday. With the full support of both the Saskatchewan Party and NDP MLAs, the act will protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners in the province to counter creeping federal overreach into provincial jurisdiction on property rights and public safety.

Saskatchewan's autonomy-driven government tabled the Firearms Act on December 1 to address concerns of responsible firearms owners and enhance public safety across Saskatchewan, according to Public Safety Minister Christine Tell. Her government believes the federal government has it wrong by targeting responsible firearm owners instead of criminals.

Tell previously sent a letter to the Saskatchewan RCMP, stressing that she would not provide provincial policing resources to aid the federal confiscation program. Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino characterized the position as 'irresponsible' for not prioritizing safety.

"We take public safety seriously and support initiatives that reduce the criminal use of firearms while preventing gang violence and stopping illegal guns from entering our province," she said.

Bill 117 establishes licensing requirements for businesses or individuals involved in firearms expropriation while overseeing fair compensation for any firearms seized and mandating forensic and ballistic testing of confiscated firearms. It passed its first reading on December 1.

The Saskatchewan Firearms Office (SFO) will primarily administer the legislation and take an expanded role in prosecuting non-violent regulatory firearms offences.

On July 28, 2020, Premier Scott Moe appointed Robert Freberg as the province's Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) to administer the Firearms Act and transition the role from a federally-selected appointment.

"Since inception, the Saskatchewan Firearms Office has successfully handled public safety files and continues to work closely with police to ensure that gun safety laws are properly enforced," said CFO Freberg. "The enhanced mandate this legislation provides will expand our office's ability to promote responsible firearms use and improve community safety."

According to a government release, Saskatchewan's government also committed $3.2 million this fiscal year to develop new firearms initiatives.

The new Saskatchewan Firearms Ballistics Lab will "support police services and provide timely access to Saskatchewan-based ballistics and firearms expertise. The new Firearms Compensation Committee would deduce the "fair market value of any firearms, ammunition, and related accessories being expropriated by the federal government."

On Tuesday, the SFO signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saskatoon Police Service to temporarily house the ballistics lab at the Saskatoon police headquarters.

According to a government release, the firearms office will chip in $49,000 to upgrade the facility's indoor shooting range and provide monthly payments to cover office space, parking and utilities until the agreement expires on December 31, 2025.

The firearms office noted the lab would have a wide array of forensic ballistics equipment, including a station to compare spent cartridges to determine whether specific guns have been used in a crime. Budget 2023 set aside about $927,000 for the lab this fiscal year.

"The Lab will also be able to conduct firearms testing and tracing to determine the history of potentially illegal firearms, which is helpful in situations where firearms have been smuggled into Canada or have had their serial numbers altered," added the SFO.

Tell said the SFO would work on finding a permanent home for the lab during the two-year agreement.

In May 2020, Ottawa banned over 1,500 models of previously legal firearms. Last October, it froze the purchase, sale, transfer, and import of handguns, which effectively prohibited handgun ownership in the country.

On February 3, the Saskatchewan Party praised Ottawa for withdrawing controversial Bill C-21 amendments that would ban semi-automatic shotguns and rifles purchased legally for hunting purposes if passed. It earned widespread opposition from NDP and Liberal MPs alike.

"Pleased to hear the federal government has withdrawn their amendments to Bill C-21," said Moe. "Thank you to all those who made their voice heard and for the work done by our Chief Firearms Officer in protecting the law-abiding firearm owners in Saskatchewan."

On March 29, officials released the final report on the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting Thursday, revealing systemic issues within the RCMP amid calls for widespread change.

"The future of the RCMP and provincial policing requires focused re-evaluation," said the report, Turning the Tide Together. "We need to rethink the role of the police in a wider ecosystem of public safety."

The commission's final report included 130 recommendations, with 75 about policing, including re-examining the RCMP's role in maintaining community safety.

Tell said the RCMP is under contract with the province until 2032. "[However, the RCMP] cannot receive money from the federal government to confiscate firearms," she said. 

"We, as a province, fund the RCMP to the tune of 70%."

When asked whether that could include defunding the RCMP, Tell articulated all options were on the table. "[Things] could get more interesting," she said.

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