"This act will help address concerns of responsible firearms owners and enhance public safety across Saskatchewan," said Corrections, Policing, and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell. Her government believes the federal government has it wrong on gun safety by targeting responsible firearm owners instead of criminals.
Tell previously sent a letter to the Saskatchewan RCMP's head officer, Rhonda Blackmore, stressing that she would not provide provincial policing resources to aid the federal program. Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino characterized the position as 'irresponsible' for not prioritizing safety.
Tell clarified: "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."
The Saskatchewan Firearms Act 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 Thursday.
The Saskatchewan Firearms Office (SFO) will primarily administer the legislation and take an expanded role in prosecuting non-violent regulatory firearms offences.
"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 Chief Firearms Officer Robert Freberg. "The enhanced mandate this legislation provides will expand our office's ability to promote responsible firearms use and improve community safety."
Saskatchewan's government also committed $3.2 million this fiscal year to develop new firearms initiatives, according to a government release.
The new Saskatchewan Firearms Ballistics Lab will "support police services and provide timely access to Saskatchewan-based ballistics and firearms expertise, and the new Firearms Compensation Committee will deduce the "fair market value of any firearms, ammunition, and related accessories being expropriated by the federal government."
Tell also positioned the Firearms Act as a new regulatory toolkit that promotes the "safe and responsible use of firearms." It educates and trains on "safe storage and firearms licensing" through a "made-in-Saskatchewan" marketing campaign.
The SFO will have additional firearms officers to support the "law-abiding firearms community" and investigate "incidents associated with mental health, domestic violence, and illegal activities involving firearms."
The announcement comes as the federal government looks to introduce Bill C-21, legislation restricting firearms ownership. In May 2020, the federal government passed an Order-in-Council banning 1,500 assault-style firearms and distinguishing components of newly prohibited firearms. Owners have until October 2023 to comply with the law.
Tell said that while the RCMP is under contract to serve as the province's police force until 2032, Ottawa can direct them to seize firearms. However, she added, "[The RCMP] cannot receive money from the federal government to confiscate firearms. 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."