Late last month, federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced “the first phase” of the federal government’s gun confiscation (“buyback”) program, part of the May 2020 ban on “assault weapons.” The Canadian press reports this initial step is a contract with the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association (CSAAA), a group representing Canada’s hunting and sport shooting industry, to work with Public Safety Canada and firearm businesses and retailers. This phase, according to the news report, will cover approximately 11,000 now-“prohibited” firearms and related parts held as inventory, which the law now bans licensed retailers from transferring, selling or returning to the manufacturers.
The contract – which is actually a budget – is worth over C$700,000 and is expected to extend into 2024. The CSAAA has not been given the money, but is conducting a study to determine the actual number and value of the guns to be collected and will be reimbursed for the expenses incurred up to a maximum of C$707,000.
Wes Winkel, CSAAA president, indicated that the object is to ensure that affected businesses receive full compensation for the guns, as it is clear that they have no other options respecting the banned inventory. “As much as we may not like it, and I assure you we don’t like it, the law of the land is that currently these firearms are listed as prohibited… We’re unable to sell them, we’re unable to move them, and right now our businesses have to pay to store these firearms and pay to insure these firearms, and the businesses would like nothing better than to get compensated for this and to get the firearms off their books.”
Many small “mom and pop” businesses have over C$250K invested in now-unsellable stock. Even if the gun confiscation fails to proceed, these and other licensed dealers will be stuck with years-old inventory that will likely have to be disposed of at a loss.
A statement at the CSAAA website explains the limited role the group would play, by only “collecting data on inventory levels and values of that inventory from dealers/distributors that wish to provide this information. If a dealer/distributor is not sure how to determine the value of their inventory, we will assist with that as well. We are not collecting firearms from dealers, deactivating them or assisting in any other way.” The statement emphasizes, also, that the CSAAA will only be working with licensed businesses and “will not be participating in any way with individually owned firearms.”
The statement adds that “[w]e are not aware of where the number of 11,000 firearms came from as no data has been collected or provided to anyone at this time,” and concludes by expressing its overall skepticism over the viability of the “industry buyback program” because of “positive changes in provincial legislation, the absence of Federal budgetary allocation, and [the lack of] a concrete process of implementation.”
All significant expenditures must be approved by Parliament in a finance bill. Thus far, with the most recent budget last month, only C$29 million has been approved for the development of IT related to the planned confiscation. (To place this amount in context, it recently cost the Canadian government C$54 million to develop a cellphone app.)
In an interview, CSAAA president Winkel offered a grimmer and less restrained assessment about his association “partnering” with the federal government. “Using the term ‘partner’ is kind of like saying that the person that’s hanging from the gallows is a partner of the person that’s operating the gallows.”
There’s no mention of when this “initial phase” will begin, although Winkel was quoted as saying “it could take years before a buyback program for retailers is up and running.”
News outlets (here, here and here) had previously reported on federal government plans, starting in late 2022, to use Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island (PEI), as the “pilot province” for the gun confiscation program, given its low number of licensed gun owners (an estimated 6,464 compared to 624,448 in Ontario). A federal memo cited in the reports gave a start date for the program throughout Canada: “Phase two, the national rollout, is planned for spring 2023…” However, this “first point of collection” pilot has now been scrapped, with “currently no public timeline for when the buyback program will begin.”
Eighteen months ago, we examined the timing of Trudeau’s gun grab: “[A] scant six months away from the amnesty deadline of April 30, 2022 – a blink of an eye given the speed of government operations – gun owners and firearm businesses are left to speculate about the operation of the confiscation and grandfathering options, compensation, and pretty much anything else related to the implementation of this gun ban.” The only significant change since then is the amnesty end date, which the Liberal government had no choice but to extend to October 30, 2023.
Now, six months out from the new date, all indications are that this amnesty extension will fail as well. In the meantime, to maintain the impression of its own effectiveness and that it is taking public safety seriously, the Trudeau government is going ahead with new gun control measures. How else to explain Minister Mendicino’s new amendments to Bill C-21, announced last week?
Bill C-21, as originally proposed, was intended to deal with handguns: to restrict the number of individually-owned handguns by freezing the importation, sale, or transfer of handguns in Canada. Last November, the reach of the bill expanded dramatically when a Liberal Member of Parliament introduced amendments that would add 1,500 or so long guns to the list of firearms classified as “prohibited” (banned). Faced with opposition from First Nations communities, farmers, ranchers, hunters and other responsible gun owners, two of the amendments were withdrawn, including amendment G-4. This would have classified as “prohibited” any semiautomatic long gun designed to accept a detachable magazine holding over five rounds and using centerfire ammunition. At the time, Mendicino spoke of “resetting the narrative;” that “Bill C-21 isn’t about targeting hunters. It’s about certain guns that are too dangerous in other contexts.”
This latest package of amendments, though, comes back to the same language. The government’s press release states the amendments will redefine a “prohibited firearm” to include “semi-automatic, centre-fire firearms that are not handguns that were originally designed with a detachable magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more,” although this definition would apply to guns designed and manufactured on or after the date the law takes effect. The announcement on the recent Bill C-21 amendments advises that the government will be “moving forward in the future with additional measures through regulations,” including regulations “to require the permanent alteration of long-gun magazines so they can never hold more than five rounds and to ban the sale of transfer of magazines capable of holding more than the legal number of bullets.”
The new narrative, like the one before it, is to treat almost all long guns as “assault-style firearms,” evidenced by Mendicino’s tweet claiming the amendments will “get assault style firearms out of our communities.” The Conservative Party’s public safety critic, Raquel Dancho, responded with the observation that “the ‘new’ Liberal definition is the same as the old one.”
“There’s a lot of toxicity when it comes to debating good, smart gun policy,” says Mendicino. It’s hard to understand how it is good or smart to punish responsible federally-licensed businesses, as well as law-abiding members of the gun community, as the ostensible causes of violent crime, and to deprive them of the use of their lawfully acquired property for years without compensation.
It’s been over ten years since the Liberal’s prior infamous experiment in gun control, the long-gun registry, was repealed, but that staggeringly ineffective, wildly expensive and unwise legislation apparently still casts a very long shadow.