Saskatchewan's Firearms Act puts 'roadblocks' up for Ottawa's buyback scheme

Public Safety Minister Christine Tell maintains that municipal forces must get approval from her to receive federal funding and participate in the program, adding it's 'not likely' she would grant permission.

Saskatchewan's Firearms Act puts 'roadblocks' up for Ottawa's buyback scheme
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Scott Moe's Saskatchewan Party has passed the Saskatchewan Firearms Act with support from the NDP to protect the rights of lawful firearm owners from federal overreach and enhance public safety.

"It is important for Saskatchewan to have its own provincial firearms legislation to ensure the concerns of responsible firearms owners are taken into account," said Public Safety Minister Christine Tell. 

"This legislation will create a strong, consistent framework to enhance public safety and support the proud tradition of responsible firearms use and ownership in this province."

The bill also puts roadblocks in place for when Ottawa starts its buyback scheme.

The Firearms Act mandates provincial licensing requirements for "seizure agents involved in firearms expropriation," and oversees "fair compensation for any firearms being seized," and the "forensic and ballistic testing of seized firearms."

The legislation requires RCMP, policing bodies or other agents to receive a licence from the provincial firearms office should they participate in the federal buyback program.

"What we are saying, and being very prescriptive here, is that if they are confiscating a firearm, and they're acting on behalf of an agent or acting on behalf of the federal government and confiscating the firearm, they must get a licence," said Tell.

However, she added that police don't need a licence to take a firearm if it's part of their regular policing duties.

Saskatchewan's public safety minister maintains that municipal forces must also get approval from her to receive federal funding and participate in the program, adding it's "not likely" she would grant permission.

"That is not their function," she clarified. 

"Police are there to perform several functions in their community. This would be on the request of an agent or the federal government to confiscate firearms from lawful firearms owners."

The Saskatchewan Firearms Office (SFO) will administer the Firearms Act and "also take on an expanded role in prosecuting non-violent provincial firearms offences."

"The Saskatchewan Firearms Act is critical to our work to improve public safety, promote responsible firearms ownership and assist the police in addressing crimes committed with illegal firearms," said Chief Firearms Officer Robert Freberg.

The province dedicated $8.9 million to the Firearms Office in Budget 2023.

"This legislation, and the significant funding we have received in this year's provincial budget, will be put to good use as we continue to develop the Saskatchewan Firearms Office."

The legislation responds to Ottawa's proposed buyback program incorporating the RCMP. The federal program would mandate prohibited firearms be sold to the government, rendered inoperable at the federal expense, or disposed of lawfully.

Bill C-21, introduced last October, aims to reduce gun violence by banning the purchase, sale, or transfer of certain firearms, including most semi-automatic shotguns and rifles. Saskatchewan subsequently introduced the Firearms Act last December. 

Tell said her government takes "public safety seriously and supports initiatives that reduce the criminal use of firearms while preventing gang violence and stopping illegal guns from entering our province."

Freberg said the Act establishes regulations to ensure firearms confiscation is safely done, including confiscation agents placing seized weapons at a secure storage site to be cataloged. Then his office would determine if it had been used in a crime or is stolen property through ballistics testing.

"The firearm cannot be destroyed until the two criteria on the compensation are agreed to, and the ballistics work has been done," said Freberg.

The Firearms Office is currently developing an online portal for participants to receive compensation for their firearms.

Ottawa plans to spend $29 million to help Public Safety Canada and the RCMP develop an "IT solution" to compensate firearms owners and "safely remove" banned weapons from communities.  

Saskatchewan RCMP has said they aren't sure of their role in the program because details remain undetermined.

The House Committee is currently studying Bill C-21 on public safety.

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