Shandro weathers 'media opposition' to Alberta Firearms Act, says it asserts provincial jurisdiction on public safety

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro says Bill 8, the Alberta Firearms Act, gives Alberta the tools to 'protect the rights of firearms owners and its unique heritage.'

Shandro weathers 'media opposition' to Alberta Firearms Act, says it asserts provincial jurisdiction on public safety
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On Tuesday afternoon, Alberta tabled its long-awaited firearms act in its fight against federal overreach on law-abiding firearms owners.

Bill 8, The Alberta Firearms Act, would require municipalities and municipal police services to meet specific requirements before entering into firearms-related funding agreements with Ottawa.

Government sources said Monday that the UCP would also develop a Firearms Compensation Committee to determine fair market value for seized firearms. They also intend to establish requirements for forensic and ballistic testing of all confiscated firearms when necessary.

A CBC reporter asked a government source who would act as the seizure agents.

They responded: "It is a fair and responsible assumption that the province will determine those agents at a later date."

The Globe and Mail asked if the agents would be provincially contracted police.

The government source said the legislation does not clearly define that but reassured they would clarify that in the regulatory process.

A Western Standard reporter sought clarification Tuesday on whether the province or federal government would appoint the seizure agents.

The government source said the province determines the regulations, not necessarily the hiring of seizure agents. They provided no further comment on the matter.

The UCP pivoted and said that consultations with stakeholders informed them that the federal buyback price for confiscated firearms is "inadequate." The government source declared the proposed Firearms Compensation Committee would determine the fair market value of prohibited firearms seized in the province.

"A one size fits all market value has been of huge concern to the firearms community," they said.

The committee will determine the confiscated firearms' value and call on Ottawa to pay the fair market value.

Of the 341,988 firearms licence holders in the province, they own the second most firearms nationwide that are classified as restricted or prohibited by the federal government.

When asked how many known firearms in the province have a prohibited classification, a government source said they estimate nearly 30,000 firearms.

The Act notably prevents municipalities from banning firearms owned by law-abiding Albertans and infringing on provincial jurisdiction. 

According to Government sources, Bill 8 builds upon Bill 211, the Municipal Government (Firearms) Amendment Act, 2020, to prevent municipalities from passing firearms bylaws unless authorized by the province.

Shandro said Bill 8 rectifies the broadly defined powers of section 7 of the Municipal Government Act by reaffirming provincial jurisdiction on the transport and storage of firearms.

A reporter accused the UCP of overreach, but the justice minister said public safety is a provincial jurisdiction. He also expressed concerns about municipal employees seizing firearms.

"How does limiting municipal funding make it easier to maintain public safety," asked a reporter. 

Shandro said, "It is incumbent on the province to ensure the safe transport, storage, and seizure of firearms."

One reporter accused the UCP of wanting to defund the police by asserting the province's jurisdiction.

Shandro confirmed they are not defunding the police.

When asked about limiting municipalities' ability to negotiate deals with the federal government, Shandro said it is to maintain the provincial jurisdiction on public safety and implement consistency.

Government sources clarified that the regulatory process outlined in Bill 8 would identify and review jurisdictional issues and precedence regarding provincial regulations.

"The federal government indicated their confiscation program involves the seizure of firearms. The primary goal of the Act is to protect law-abiding firearms owners. It is within the CFO's jurisdiction to handle matters of their handling and storage," they said.

"As the federal government makes details of its confiscation program readily available, at such time, we will approach the regulatory process accordingly," said Shandro, who maintains that Bill 8 is "constitutionally viable."

The justice minister called the Alberta Firearms Act the country's most comprehensive provincial firearms framework, providing the tools to regulate, administer, and advocate for firearms owners.

He adds that when Ottawa introduces laws that confuse firearms owners, they become increasingly frustrated by the province's lack of legislative mandate to assert its jurisdiction.

Shandro said Bill 8 gives Alberta the tools to "protect the rights of firearms owners and its unique heritage." 

A CBC reporter asked why the province is legislating the Act and redefining the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) role.

"A clearer CFO role will empower Dr. Teri Bryant to advocate more strongly the values of Albertans in Ottawa," he claimed. "Businesses deserve clarity, accountability and advocacy." 

In 2021, Alberta established its own Chief Firearms Office to administer the Canadian Firearms Program and appointed Dr. Teri Bryant as CFO. The office administers federal firearms legislation, advocates for lawful firearms owners and promotes public safety.

The Act gives the UCP the "flexibility" to develop regulations that adequately respond to federal actions that intrude into the property rights of firearms owners, including sports shooters, collectors, farmers, and those who lead traditional lifestyles.

"Once passed, the Alberta Firearms Act will be the [country's] most comprehensive provincial firearms framework. By establishing in legislation the role of Alberta Chief Firearms Officer, this legislation will elevate the responsibilities and legal mandate of the office to the fullest extent of the law," said Shandro. 

"Alberta stands unequivocally with hunters, farmers, sport shooters, and Indigenous peoples, all of whom understand the importance of responsible firearm ownership to Alberta's heritage and culture."

Many legal firearm owners frequent one of Alberta's 127 approved shooting ranges if not used for hunting. The province has more than 650 firearms-related businesses.

According to a government source, firearms owners expressed "confusion" about firearms regulations, and redefining the role clarifies that. Alberta currently has 341,988 active licence holders. 

They said the province's firearms office has 30 staff and is expected to grow to 70 by the summer. Where the funding comes from will be determined in the regulatory development process, but the justice minister hopes Ottawa maintains 60% to 70% of the administrative costs.

"Those conversations remain ongoing, but federal funding is expected for Alberta's Firearms Office," said Shandro.

Shandro all said the Act would clarify the role of the federal and provincial governments on firearms.

"We oppose the confiscation program, notably, because we have received very few details, and it keeps changing." 

"Ultimately, confiscation does not enhance public safety," said Shandro. 

Annually, 30,000 Albertans complete mandatory firearms safety training to obtain their firearms license — up to 38,000 as of 2021.

In December, Shandro said the province would assume jurisdiction of firearms-related Criminal Code cases as the UCP believes Ottawa's firearms seizure goes too far.

"The federal government has taken measures that don't reduce gun crimes, such as removing the minimum sentences for violent gun crime," continued the justice minister.

"It started in PEI — the feds backtracked — and now they indicate the confiscation amnesty will extend beyond October 2023. It is clear they have no idea what they're doing."

The justice minister clarifies that the lack of regulatory details is because there is no readily available information from the federal government on how it will implement its gun laws.

While mum about the details of those regulations, Shandro said they would preserve public confidence by regulating the seizure of prohibited firearms and establishing fair compensation.

He called Bill 8 "nimble" but offered no further comment on the regulatory process.

Tuesday's announcement comes after the federal government failed to introduce amendments to Bill C-21 that would have targeted rifles and shotguns popular with hunters, sport shooters, and gun collectors.

While the controversial legislation is not dead in the water, despite Ottawa withdrawing from its PEI pilot, the Liberal Party continues to consult Canadians on how best to restrict 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.

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