Alberta introduces provincial firearms act to push back on federal gun bill

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro announced the introduction of the province's Firearms Act on Tuesday.  (Government of Alberta - image credit)
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro announced the introduction of the province's Firearms Act on Tuesday. (Government of Alberta - image credit)

The Alberta government has introduced legislation giving Justice Minister Tyler Shandro the ability to hamper the federal government's ability to collect restricted firearms as proposed under C-21.

Shandro says Bill 8, the Alberta Firearms Act, defines the role of the province's chief firearms officer, but it also allows him to enact regulations regarding how the proposed federal legislation is administered in Alberta.

Shandro told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that the bill contains about 60 subclauses outlining areas where he could make regulations.

They could include preventing municipal police forces and organizations from taking part in the collection of illegal guns by prohibiting them from entering funding deals with Ottawa.

"If a municipality or a municipal service wants to begin conversations with a federal government on taking federal money to taking those resources off the street to be able to be involved in a confiscation program, that doesn't make our communities anymore safe," Shandro said.

"And that's a conversation that is now going to have to include the provincial government if this bill passes."

The bill proposes that anyone acting as a "seizure agent" must be licensed by the province.

Shandro's view is that no one should receive a licence.

"We disagree with the confiscation program, so we don't think that there should be anyone involved in being engaged as a seizure agent for the confiscation program," he said.

The federal government is expected to launch a buyback program where people can sell their newly illegal firearms to Ottawa without criminal penalty until Oct. 30. Shandro said there have been discussions about extending the deadline.

Alberta firearms office expansion

The federal government's push to ban certain weapons has aggravated the United Conservative government since Ottawa first issued a list of prohibited weapons through an order in council in 2020.

The introduction of Bill C-21 made it worse. The bill was originally focused on restricting handguns, but it expanded to include a larger number of weapons including rifles used by hunters.

Ottawa is walking back those provisions after pushback from gun owners, including Indigenous people who have rights to hunt and harvest.

Bill 8 also formally defines the role of Teri Bryant, the province's chief firearms officer. Bryant was appointed to the role in 2021 and has spent the last 18 months engaging in advocacy.

Under the bill, Bryant's role in administrating the federal firearms act will be enshrined in law. Her office will be expected to produce an annual report.

The chief firearms office will expand from 30 to 70 employees this year with an annual budget of $5.8 million. The federal government funds around 70 per cent of operations. Shandro said Alberta is in discussions with Ottawa about getting money for the expansion.

The Alberta NDP Official Opposition said the government should focus on fixing health care, dealing with inflation and building a resilient economy.

NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said Bill 8 "does nothing to get assault weapons off the streets or improve safety for families."

"There are legitimate criticisms of the federal firearms program, and absolutely they needed to withdraw and reconsider their amendments that would have captured many firearms, including those used by Albertans and Indigenous peoples for hunting," Sabir said in a written statement.

Political scientist Lisa Young of the University of Calgary said firearms regulations are of great interest to the base of UCP. She said Bill 8 is a way for the party to send a message to rural supporters going into the provincial election in May.

"It's a way of reassuring the party base, reassuring rural party supporters that this is still their party," Young said.