Sask. government tells RCMP it will not support federal firearm buyback
Saskatchewan’s Minister of Policing and Public Safety Christine Tell says she does not want provincial police resources involved in a federal firearm buyback program, a position the federal government is calling reckless.
On Tuesday, Christine Tell sent a letter to Saskatchewan RCMP Commanding Officer Rhonda Blackmore.
“The government of Saskatchewan does not support and will not authorize the use of provincially funded resources for any process that is connected to the federal government proposed ‘buy back’ of these firearms,” Tell wrote.
In May 2020, the federal government passed an order in council banning 1,500 assault-style firearms and certain components of newly prohibited firearms.
It announced an amnesty until October of 2023, giving owners of the firearms time to comply with the law.
Tell’s letter does not explain exactly how the government would go about preventing the use of police resources in the buyback.
In 2011, the Saskatchewan and federal governments signed an agreement securing the RCMP as the provincial police force until 2032.
The deal means Saskatchewan covers 70 per cent of the costs with the federal government paying for the rest.
Tell’s letter came in conjunction with a similar letter sent by Alberta’s Justice Minister Tyler Shandro to the Alberta RCMP’s commanding officer.
The federal government initially indicated the private sector would design and run a buyback of prohibited firearms.
Shandro said the federal public safety minister sent him a letter requesting police resources to begin work on the buyback.
Tell referred to the buyback program as a “confiscation program,” words echoed by the province’s chief firearms officer Robert Freberg.
“We don’t see that it’s going to do anything to enhance public safety in the province. The people that they’re targeting with this buyback or confiscation … aren’t the individuals that are causing the issue,” Freberg told CBC on Wednesday.
Freberg said the provincial government, under its contract with the RCMP, “sets the priorities as to what we see with the best value for the taxpayers dollars.”
“We don’t tell them what type of criminal investigations to do or how to do them. We’re not interfering, but this isn’t a criminal investigation. This is strictly utilizing police officers to do effectively courier services,” he said.
Freberg said the province can withhold funding to the RCMP to prevent it from participating in the buyback.
“Yes, and I believe that the answer is absolutely yes, we do have that authority and that’s what the Minister has articulated in the letter,” he said.
Freberg said it’s the government’s position that the owners of the now-prohibited firearms are already regulated and monitored.
“A lot of these individuals use these firearms for hunting purposes, for sporting purposes and through no fault of themselves have not created any type of risk themselves or others, because they are monitored under their licensing by us closely. So if they were at risk we would certainly be taking all the firearms, not just the ones that are considered scary,” he said.
In June, after the federal government announced the plan to freeze handgun sales, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the government was “virtue signalling.”
Freberg said he is not convinced the police departments want to take part in the buyback.
“I don’t see how we can all of a sudden make these people criminals. The police certainly don’t want firearms owners going down to the police station or firearms walking in all day long dropping firearms off.”
CBC reached out to RCMP for comment but has not received a response.
Federal government calls Sask. position ‘reckless’
On Thursday, the Federal Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino’s office sent a statement in response to Tell’s letter.
“It is the primary responsibility of any government to keep their citizens safe. This announcement by Saskatchewan is not only reckless, it’s an abdication of that vital responsibility,” the statement said.
“The courts have repeatedly confirmed that regulating firearms falls squarely within federal jurisdiction. Saskatchewanians expect their federal and provincial governments to work together to protect their communities, not pull dangerous stunts.
“Weapons of war have no place in our communities, which is why our government banned these guns, and our buyback program will get them off our streets for good.”
In May, Mendicino said the buyback would start by the end of the year.
“Our ban on assault-style weapons is one element of our plan to keep Canadians safe from gun violence. This includes action at the border stop smuggling, investments in our communities to stop crime before it starts and Bill C-21, the most important legislation on gun violence in Canada in a generation,” the statement said.
The initial firearms ban was announced less than two weeks after the Nova Scotia gun massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.
“While conservative politicians want to make the AR-15 and other assault weapons legal again, we remain resolute in our work to make our communities safer.”
An Ipsos poll in 2020 suggested that an overwhelming majority, 82 per cent, of those surveyed supported Bill C-21, the legislation aimed at banning a range of “assault-style” weapons.
However, support for the ban was the lowest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba at 57 per cent, according to the poll results.
Freberg said the federal legislation came on the heels of high-profile mass shootings in the United States. He said Canada and the U.S. gun laws do not compare.
“So if you go out and ask somebody [if] you want a military assault weapon to be sold, the person who has no familiarity with firearms will probably say, ‘no, that’s not a good idea,’ but you could apply that same label to a baseball bat if you wanted to call it an assault weapon,” he said.
Freberg said in his experience, owners of the newly prohibited firearms are not interested in the buyback because the price point offered by the federal government is too low.
“They would much prefer selling them in the private market where they’re going to be worth a lot more money than what they’re going to see in the buyback,” he said.
Freberg said it is his impression that if the RCMP participated they would get a call for a buyback in their detachment, go to the owner’s residence, catalog the firearm, and store it before it is destroyed.
“All the time that’s happening is time that officer can’t be out working on the public safety file,” he said.