Premier announces new firearms advisory committee and plans for forensic examination lab
Premier Jason Kenney says the province will set up a firearms advisory committee and a special examination unit to be used in prosecuting gun crimes at a news conference Wednesday. 40:01
Alberta’s government is taking further steps to assert provincial independence in tackling gun crime and firearms access.
On Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced Alberta will skirt a national backlog of forensic firearms examinations by establishing a “special examination unit” within the province. An eight-month delay getting results from national labs is prompting problematic lags in prosecuting gun crimes, the premier said.
Kenney also tapped Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo to chair a provincial firearms advisory committee. It’s a further step in response to the federal Liberal government’s move to ban 1,500 “assault style” firearms last month — a move Kenney says makes “scapegoats” of law-abiding gun owners.
“You can put all sorts of Hollywood words on them to characterize them, but these are firearms again that have been used and are possessed legally by Albertans and Canadians,” Kenney said at a news conference in Edmonton on Wednesday.
Glasgo said she was “appalled” by Ottawa’s “gun grab” initiated last month. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately banned the sale, import, transport or use of a lengthy list of semi-automatic weapons in the wake of Canada’s deadliest mass killing in Nova Scotia.
Gun owners would have a two-year amnesty period to sell or export any newly illegal firearms.
Alberta’s moves come days after the provincial government introduced legislation to create a provincial parole board and confirmed it would move to appoint a provincial chief firearms officer, nudging aside a federally appointed one.
Appointing an Alberta firearms officer was one of several ideas under consideration by the “Fair Deal” panel Kenney assembled last fall. The group of MLAs and other citizens was tasked with holding public hearings and studying ways Alberta could assert its independence within confederation, including consideration of a provincial pension plan or a provincial police force to replace federal counterparts.
The panel submitted its report to government earlier this spring, and Kenney said he will release it publicly within a couple of weeks.
Although government has made no final decision, the premier said on Wednesday the idea of creating a provincial police force is still on the table. He pointed to frustrations in rural Alberta with crime rates and slow response times from RCMP.
“There’s a lack of understanding about the local reality sometimes in those in RCMP management,” he said. “This could be a part of asserting a stronger Alberta in a Canadian federation.”
Firearms lab will help prosecutions
Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the government has reached a deal with Calgary and Edmonton police and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) for lab analysis of guns used in crimes.
The delay at RCMP labs is putting prosecutions at risk, Kenney said, as the Supreme Court’s Jordan decision prompts judges to dismiss cases for unreasonable systemic delays.
The Calgary Police Service has a firearms examinations facility and the Edmonton Police Service has one in development, but most police services in Alberta rely on the RCMP’s national forensic laboratory in Ottawa.
In 2012, the federal Stephen Harper Conservative government — in which Kenney was a cabinet minister — announced the closure of three of six RCMP forensic labs to save money. Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the turnaround time for those labs to analyze a firearm used in a crime quadrupled to 238 days.
Schweitzer said about 600 Alberta firearms go to the national lab for testing each year. Once up and running, Edmonton and Calgary labs should be able to handle about 750, he said.
Kelly Sundberg, an economics, justice and policy studies professor at Mount Royal University, said in an interview the Alberta government should consider handling all forensics analysis within the province, if possible. If labs were well resourced, and with advice and oversight from local universities, it would be good for criminal justice in Alberta, he said.
Opposition says firearms committee an ‘echo chamber’
The new 12-member Alberta Firearms Advisory Council will “examine the impact of federal firearms legislation on gun owners in Alberta and consider how provincial firearms policies can best meet the needs of Albertans,” according to government.
Members, which include three rural MLAs, former Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson, firearms-related business owners and competitive shooters, will give advice to government and submit a report within a few months.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the council is “homogenous” and lacks representation by people from communities victimized by gun crimes and active police members.
“You’re not going to have an effective advisory committee if you only insist upon turning up the volume of your own echo chamber,” Notley said Wednesday.
Notley said she understands Albertans’ frustration with the federal government’s gun ban, saying it came with little warning and failed to initially consider Indigenous hunting rights.
She said farmers and hunters don’t need some of the outlawed weapons.
“If you literally need 600 bullets to kill a moose, you probably shouldn’t be hunting anything,” she said.
On Wednesday evening, members of the legislature debated a motion to express government’s opposition to the federal gun ban and appoint a provincial chief firearms officer.
In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the new ban on assault-style firearms came after months of consultation.
“We know that law abiding gun owners are very responsible people, and they have our respect,” said Mary-Liz Power in the statement. “The prohibition of assault weapons brought in on May 1, 2020 follows extensive public consultation between October 2018 and Spring 2019, including eight in-person roundtable sessions across the country in both urban and rural communities, an online questionnaire, written submissions from stakeholders, and meetings with provinces, territories, municipalities, and Indigenous communities.”
Power said the ban was “one piece in the larger puzzle of ending gun violence” and that the government has invested millions fighting gun and gang violence.
The statement also notes that provinces have the right to appoint a chief firearms officer and five provinces have chosen to do so.