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Trudeau’s Gun Control: A Brief Respite for Law Abiding Canadians

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Two years ago, Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced a sweeping, immediate ban of thousands of firearm models and variants, imposed unilaterally through Orders in Council. The rationale was that these previously lawful sporting and hunting guns were “military grade assault weapons,” a term that doesn’t exist in Canadian law.

Although the transfer, transport and use of these firearms was almost entirely prohibited as of May 1, a two-year amnesty period allowed affected firearm owners to continue to possess their guns pending the implementation of a government confiscation program (“buy-back”) and grandfathering option, with details to be announced.

Late in 2020, IBM Canada Ltd. was retained by the government to “develop a range of options and approaches to inform the design and implementation” of the gun confiscation.

Through an access to information request, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has obtained a copy of IBM’s advice document on “comprehensive program design options” for implementation. Dated May 14, 2021, large portions have been redacted, notably the part titled “Collection” (options, feasibility assessment, risk assessment, other considerations) and the amount for “Cost of Firearms Purchased” (Table 2 on page 50). An attached document, Compensation Model Options, Draft Final Report (Public Safety Canada, last updated April 22, 2021), likewise has its “estimated costing analysis” and a reference to “potential range of estimated compensation” completely removed.

The Liberal government has still not indicated how it plans to implement the confiscation, compensation, and grandfathering associated with the May 2020 Orders in Council. Now, on the threshold of the expiration of the amnesty, the government has done the only thing possible short of scrapping the gun ban and confiscation law entirely and quietly announced an extension of the amnesty period until October 30, 2023.

The relevant Order in Council, SOR/2022-45, supersedes the original May 2020 amnesty regulation. Besides extending the amnesty, this addresses several problems that had not been thought through at the time the law went into effect, as outlined in the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement at the end of the order. (One example of these awkward omissions was that the Bank of Canada, a Crown corporation and the nation’s central bank, “could not use part of its inventory [of firearms], which it possessed and used prior to the May 1, 2020, ban, to protect its assets, premises, and individuals because some firearms are now prohibited and its personnel are not currently legally permitted to use them.” The new order now allows the bank’s security personnel to resume use of its current inventory “to effectively defend its premises, assets, and individuals from an armed attack.”)

It is not clear why Trudeau’s government has developed a case of cold feet over its confiscation program. The Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement disingenuously advises that the “extension of time would be beneficial to affected owners who have not yet come into compliance and who must either avail themselves of the future buyback program or deactivate their firearm” – essentially, the extension is useful because it’s impossible to comply with a nonexistent program.

We’re guessing there are at least two possible reasons for the delay: finances and optics.

According to a recent study by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian think-tank, Prime Minister Trudeau has already broken the record “for the highest level of per-person federal spending in Canada’s history … This was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country. In other words, Canada entered the pandemic with spending levels that were already at record highs,” and the situation has not improved with the added financial pressures of the pandemic.

The available estimates for enforcing Trudeau’s pointless gun ban and confiscation law have climbed drastically from an initial figure of CAD$200M, to $300-400M, and to just short of $800M (which did not include “administration costs which could add billions of dollars to the final tab”). Federal officials have consistently dodged questions about the price tag, and the above-mentioned government documents, for some reason, have scrubbed all references to implementation costs and compensation amounts. Commenting on the program last year, Franco Terrazzano of the CTF taxpayer watchdog group warned that, “[w]e continue to find more and more evidence of rising costs, and that should be a huge red flag for a government that is already more than $1 trillion in debt and hasn’t bought a single gun.”

Trudeau’s government has faced criticism at home and abroad after Trudeau invoked, for the first time ever, the federal Emergencies Act and declared a “public order emergency” in response to protests over a federal vaccine mandate last month. Besides the warrantless seizure of private property, suspension of commercial licenses and insurance, and freezing of personal and business bank accounts and crypto-wallets without court order (here and here), shocking images from the protest that went viral included a 4-foot, 10-inch great-grandfather being handcuffed, shoved to the ground, and arrested for honking his car horn; an unresisting protester apparently being kneed repeatedly; and horses trampling peaceful demonstrators, including an elderly woman on a mobility scooter.

The last thing that the Liberal government should want now is to be associated with scenes of thousands of decent citizens – farmers, hunters, sports shooters, veterans and other everyday Canadians – having their property confiscated by the police and other government officials. The advice document recognizes as much: “the point at which [gun owners] relinquish ownership of their NPF [newly prohibited firearm] will be the defining experience of the entire program” and “[t]his is also true for media coverage … which will use the imagery of this part of the program to represent the entire program.”

For now, the amnesty extension means gun owners have some time before they have to face this “defining experience of the entire program.” Unfortunately for Canadians – gun owners and taxpayers alike – the government has opted to defer rather than drop the gun-ban-and-grab program, despite it showing every sign of being as astronomically expensive and completely ineffective as the Liberal’s previous spectacular failure in gun control, the national long gun registry.

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