OTTAWA – The federal government is “looking at a variety of options” to carry out a planned buyback of banned firearms – including enlisting outside help, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says.
The Liberal government banned some 1,500 models and variants of firearms, including the AR-15 and Ruger Mini-14, through an order-in-council in May 2020 on the grounds they have no place in hunting or sport shooting.
The proposed buyback program would require owners to either sell these firearms to the government or have them rendered inoperable at federal expense.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has urged the Liberal government not to rely on resource-strapped police forces to deliver the coming program.
Regina Police Chief Evan Bray, appearing in October on behalf of the association at a House of Commons committee, said the buyback will be an administrative process – not a policing issue – involving a massive amount of work.
He suggested that another organization, or courier or mail services, be tapped to help people turn in their firearms, allowing police to focus on law-breakers as well as border integrity, smuggling and trafficking.
In a recent interview, Mendicino said he hopes to have some news on the shape of the program early this year.
“We’re looking at a variety of options when it comes to delivering on the buyback program. But we’re taking the time that is necessary to get it right,” he told The Canadian Press.
“It’s going to involve a number of critical stakeholders and partners, including law enforcement. But we’re also working with other levels of government. We’re working with industry leaders, we’re working with potential third parties. So we are exploring all of these options.”
The government has proposed an evergreen definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm that would be enshrined in gun-control legislation, known as Bill C-21, being studied by the Commons committee.
Among other technical specifications concerning bore diameter and muzzle energy, the proposed definition includes a centrefire semi-automatic rifle or shotgun designed with a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.
Conservative MPs and some firearm advocates say the bid to ban assault-style guns unfairly targets many commonly used rifles and shotguns.
The committee is scrutinizing the latest list of firearms that would fall under the definition.
There is debate over exactly what is included and what is not, because the definition applies only to some variations of certain models that actually meet the criteria – guns the government considers inappropriate for civilian use.
Mendicino indicated that financial compensation through the buyback program will be available for all firearms that fall under the definition.
“We respect law abiding gun owners, including hunters and farmers and Indigenous Peoples. And we will take a fair and equitable approach when it comes to compensating them for firearms which are ultimately determined to be prohibited under Bill C-21,” he said.
“We are mindful about the need to be transparent and fiscally prudent when it comes to the creation and the launch, and ultimate delivery, of the buyback program.”
The proposed assault-style firearm definition was introduced at committee as an amendment to the gun bill after witness testimony was complete. As a result, MPs are proposing as many as eight additional sessions on the amendment, including possible travel to the North to hear Indigenous witnesses.
Mendicino said the government supports the committee’s work and that he would gladly testify on the amendment.
“I embrace any opportunity to work with parliamentarians, regardless of partisan stripe, to pass this legislation. I firmly believe that it will help to better protect our communities from gun violence.”
Upon introducing the bill earlier this year, the Liberals announced a plan to implement a freeze on importing, buying, selling or otherwise transferring handguns.
Federal regulations aimed at capping the number of handguns in Canada are now in effect.
The bill contains measures that would reinforce the handgun freeze. The legislation would also allow for removal of gun licences from people committing domestic violence or engaged in criminal harassment, such as stalking, as well as increased maximum penalties for gun smuggling and trafficking to 14 years from 10.
Mendicino also points to other elements of the federal gun-control strategy, including money to help the Canada Border Services Agency detect gun smuggling, efforts with the United States to break up firearm-trafficking networks and community funding to prevent gun crime before it starts.