Sask. Highway Patrol needs permission to buy firearms following investigation, chief's dismissal

·2 min read
The Saskatchewan Highway Patrol will require ministry approval before purchasing firearms, ammunition and other special equipment.  (Government of Saskatchewan - image credit)
The Saskatchewan Highway Patrol will require ministry approval before purchasing firearms, ammunition and other special equipment. (Government of Saskatchewan - image credit)

Saskatchewan's highway patrol must receive approval from the provincial government before purchasing firearms, ammunition, and other special equipment — changes prompted by an investigation by the provincial auditor last year.

Last week, the provincial cabinet passed a regulation requiring more checks and balances on purchasing of firearms, ammunition, and other equipment by special constables, which includes those with the highway patrol, as well as conservation and parks officers.

"Before firearms, ammunition, or special equipment is purchased for special constables, it will require the approval of the Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety," the ministry said in a statement.

That special equipment includes items like batons, bulletproof vests and pepper spray.

The change comes after a 2020 report by then provincial audtior Judy Ferguson, who highlighted some "questionable purchases" by the department, including two fully automatic rifles, an AR-10 carbine, suppressors (sometimes referred to as silencers), drug test kits, a drone, and a high-power rifle scope.

The Saskatchewan Highway Patrol chief was fired in the wake of the purchases. He then sued the government for wrongful dismissal.

The government ordered a third-party review which found "inconsistencies," then highways minister Greg Ottenbreit said last year.

Ferguson made several recommendations in her June 2020 report, but by November, some had still not been implemented.

"Having clear policies that restrict who can buy regulated items like firearms and ammunition (e.g., require additional approvals or limit purchases to a few individuals) can assist the Ministry in overseeing purchases of regulated goods," Ferguson's report said.

The Saskatchewan Highway Patrol was created in 2018, when the former Commercial Vehicle Enforcement department was renamed and given expanded powers to investigate impaired drivers and respond to crimes.

The move was part of the province's creation of a rural crime response team, which also includes RCMP, municipal police and provincial conservation officers.

The auditor's report found since highway patrol's inception, the government spent $700,000 to supply it with firearms, ammunition, and protective equipment.

Last June, Ottenbreit said $140,000 of the purchased equipment could not be used by the highway patrol and would be "locked up and liquidated to proper law agencies."

The changes passed last week come into force on June 1.

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