Alberta’s Kenney, Schweitzer, Glasgo: Media Briefing Transcript — Following is a partial transcript of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer, and Michaela Glasgo, chair of the new Alberta Firearms Advisory Committee.

They spoke at a media briefing today in Edmonton on plans to defend gun rights for hunters, farmers, ranchers and sport shooters.

Headings and bold were added by

Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer

Schweitzer: [Introductory remarks]

Premier Jason Kenney

Kenney: Thanks very much, Doug, and thanks as well to Michaela for joining us for an important announcement today about asserting Alberta and defending law-abiding Albertans against a federal attack against their rights as law-abiding firearms owners.

Alberta has a long history of responsible firearms ownership — in fact, it goes back to our very beginning as a province, and be it hunting, sport shooting or farmers and ranchers using guns for predator and pest control. While some people in faraway places like Toronto may not understand the reality, hundreds of thousands of Albertans use firearms as part of everyday life.

‘Not Scapegoats’

Those law-abiding Albertans should not be used as scapegoats for the actions of criminals by politicians in Ottawa.

The opposition to the former Liberal Long-Arm Registry was strongest here in Alberta, of any part of Canada. Albertans rightfully understood that treating farmers and duck hunters like criminals would do nothing to deter criminals who, by definition, don’t care about the consequences of breaking laws.

Canada does have strong gun-control measures — measures that we support, including licensing and background checks. Licensed firearms owners are actually subject to an automatic criminal background check every single day. “Restricted” firearms are tightly regulated including how they are stored, transported and safely used. Ammunition capacity is limited. Handguns have been registered in Canada since the 1930s.

Unfortunately, however, there are some politicians who prefer to go after easy targets, being law-abiding Canadians and their legally obtained property, instead of focusing on the drug gangs and criminal smugglers who willfully endanger lives every day.

Such actions illustrate the huge gulf between the federal and provincial governments’ approaches to combating crime and to responsible firearms ownership. Put simply, while some in Ottawa believe in targeting legally purchased inanimate objects, Alberta believes in targeting actual criminals who represent a threat to public safety.

That’s why I’m very pleased to announce today two new actions by Alberta’s government.

Alberta Firearms Advisory Committee

First, we are creating an Alberta Firearms Advisory Committee to advise the provincial government on firearms policies under our provincial jurisdiction. The committee’s 12 members will include three MLAs, to be chaired by Michaela Glasgo of Brooks-Medicine Hat, and joined by Valleyview’s Todd Loewen and Onoway’s Shane Getson, as well as retired law-enforcement officers, hunters, sportsmen and sportswomen, collectors and a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

These women and men are exemplars of responsible gun ownership with broad knowledge and expertise. I’m confident that they’ll provide the Minister of Justice with thoughtful, sensible ideas to help us craft policies for responsible Alberta firearms owners.

Alberta Firearms Examination Unit

The second action we’re announcing today is designed to strengthen Alberta’s justice system’s ability to prosecute real gun crimes. As our Crown Prosecutors will tell you, the lack of a provincial testing facility for firearms weakens their ability to bring accused violent criminals to trial in a timely fashion.

The Calgary Police Service already has a testing facility, and the Edmonton Police Service is in the process of establishing one. But all other police forces in Alberta currently rely on the RCMP’s National Forensic Laboratory Services in central Canada to perform this basic procedure. And today, they are waiting an average of roughly eight months for the results and that, of course, includes the RCMP that provides police services throughout rural Alberta.

This puts successful prosecutions at risk — that eight month delay. And due to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan decision, long delays in the justice process can result in criminal prosecutions, including those involving gun crimes, being dismissed outright and allowing criminals to go scot-free.

So that’s why I’m pleased to announce that the Government of Alberta is partnering with the Calgary Police Service, the Edmonton Police Service, the RCMP, and the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams to patriate all of the province’s firearm testing to the lab in Calgary and the forthcoming Edmonton Police Service facility in Edmonton.

This will speed up the testing process to ensure that no prosecution of a gun crime gets derailed because tests are being held up down in Ottawa.

Both of these actions that we are announcing today are needed because of Ottawa’s failure properly to balance the prosecution of criminals with protection of the rights of law-biding citizens.

If Ottawa really wants to protect Canadians from gun crime, it should massively increase resources for the interdiction of firearms being smuggled across the U.S. border, and most of that is happening, again, in central Canada. And it should stop the revolving-door justice system and slap-on-the-wrist sentences for violent gangsters mainly from drug gangs who are behind most of the firearm-linked fatalities in Canada.

We sincerely hope that the federal government comes to realize this.

Alberta Chief Firearms Officer

Now, as I mentioned a few days ago, we’ll be appointing an Alberta Chief Firearms Officer to replace Ottawa’s appointee and there is a motion before the Legislature on that subject, which will be further debated tonight.

Legal Challenge Against Gun Confiscation

And we are studying the possibility of further actions, based on the advice of the new committee that we’re setting up today, and this could include supporting the likely legal challenges coming forward from Albertans and other Canadians to challenge aspects of Ottawa’s recent regulatory overreach.

These concrete steps are moving us toward a system of firearms administration in the province that is rooted in the values and the priorities of law-abiding Albertans.

And with that, I’d like to invite MLA Glasgo to say a few words.

MLA Michaela Glasgo

Thank you, Premier, and thank you, Minister. Good morning. I consider it to be a honour and a privilege to be asked to chair the Alberta Firearms Advisory Committee. Advocating on behalf of Albertans for private-property rights has always been a priority for me, and that includes the right to lawfully owning firearms.

Since being elected, I’ve stood up in the House on more than one occasion to speak about Alberta’s proud history of responsible gun ownership.

I grew up around firearms. I was always taught that safety came first, and that guns were useful tools for life when employed in a safe fashion.

When the federal government instituted its gun grab on Canadians, I have to say that I, as well as a large majority of my constituents, were appalled.

Many Albertans have expressed a deep desire for more autonomy from Ottawa. I hear about it regularly.

The passing of C-71 last year imposed unneccesary red tape, fees and hurdles on law-abiding citizens and business owners. And the recent Order in Council from Justin Trudeau will now force hard-working, responsible, law-abiding Albertans to hand over their private property, and Albertans are rightly frustrated. I am, too.

And, to add insult to injury, Ottawa is also entertaining the idea of allowing municipalities to ban handguns. Municipalities are under the direct purview of the provinces, and frankly, Alberta has had enough of Ottawa’s meddling.

This is overreach to the nth degree. Albertans want less Ottawa, not more.

These recent attacks on gun-owners rights will do absolutely nothing to address the core issues that lead to gun violence: gang activity, illegal weapons smuggling, the drug trade, the list goes on. These are the issues that the federal government should be focused on: keeping everyone safe.

We need firearms policies that recognize and support the ability of Albertans to own and possess firearms in a lawful and responsible manner.

I truly am looking forward to engaging with all Albertans — including farmers, ranchers, hunters and shooting-sports enthusiasts — to ensure that this well-capable committee provides advice to the government that accurately reflects the values of responsible Albertans. Thank you.

Media Q&A

iPolitics, Graham Thomson: Thank you for taking my call. Premier, we haven’t see a Fair Deal Panel’s report yet. Based on the fact that you’re looking at of course appointing your own Chief Firearms Officer and also potentially the Alberta Parole Board, is this sort of a precursor to you leaning towards an Alberta Police Force and an Alberta Pension Plan?

Kenney: So Graham, we will be releasing the Fair Deal Panel report in a couple of weeks. We wanted time to digest it and discuss it, both as cabinet and caucus, and in fact we were just doing that earlier today. I look forward to advancing the discussion about how Alberta can get a fair deal in Canada — not just a discussion, but concrete actions.

As you know, one of the issues we asked the Fair Deal Panel to look at is whether we should be creating an Alberta Provincial Police Force. We had one in this province in the earliest decades of our history, until the 30s, and of course Ontario and Quebec have their own provincial police services. This is not really relevant to most of our cities that have their own municipal police forces, but it is very relevant for rural Albertans who depend on the RCMP as their local police force through the contract that we have with Ottawa.

Doug here can tell you, as can Michaela and so many of our MLAs, about the profound frustration that rural Albertans have felt coping with the rural crime wave in recent years, the unacceptable response times and the perception that often management decisions are being taken in distant Ottawa for an urgent situation here on the ground. There’s a lack of understanding about the local realities sometimes in those RCMP management decisions.

So, we think there is a real issue here. We’ve not made any final decisions, and I would just say, stay tuned for the Fair Deal Panel. I have asked Solicitor General Schweitzer to come forward with options in this regard for the government to consider, and of course this could be an important part of asserting a stronger Alberta in the Canadian federation, but again no final decisions have been taken.

 [Question on commercial rent evictions]

CBC News, Janet French: Hi there, thanks for taking my question. So, I mean, the federal ban that was just introduced was related to “assault-style weapons,” is the terminology they’re using. I’m just hoping you can help me understand, and I’m not sure which of you is best versed in firearms use: how many farmers and duck hunters need access to assault-style guns, and what sorts of tasks do they use them for?

Kenney: Janet, there have been thousands of categories of firearms recently banned by Order in Council, all of which have been legally obtained, legally used by people with possession-acquisition certificates, which means they’ve gone through rigorous safety training, background checks and constant police checks as well — criminal record checks. These are firearms that Canada, including this federal government, has always considered to be safe and legal. These generally have not been “Restricted,” and obviously not “Prohibited.” Many of these are basically firearms that have been used legally and safely by hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

So you can put all sorts of, you know, Hollywood words on them to characterize them, but these are firearms, again, that have been used and are possessed legally by Albertans and Canadians.

By the way, amongst the thousands of categories that have been prohibited by federal fiat in the last couple of weeks are shotguns that are in wide use by farmers and ranchers as tools in agriculture.

And you know what? The federal government has actually come forward with an exemption for the application of these rules to Indigenous Canadians, to members of First Nations, because they recognize that many of these firearms are used in the exercise of treaty-protected hunting and trapping rights.

So, on the one hand, the federal government is saying that these are firearms that are used legitimately for hunting, and they recognize there’s a treaty right enjoined there. On the other hand, they’re applying a double standard.

[To Minister Schweitzer] Doug, you want to fill anything in there?

[Minister Schweitzer responds]

Kenney: And I’ll just add one more point, which is: if the goal is to reduce firearms crimes, then they should be redoubling efforts to stop the illegal importation of the kind of firearms that are used by gangs and criminals in Canada. The target should not be law-abiding farmers and hunters in rural Alberta. The target should be the criminal gangs that are bringing thousands of illegal firearms across the border primarily in Ontario and Quebec.

[To MLA Glasgo] Did you want to add to that, Michaela?

Glasgo: Thank you for the question, Ms. French.

I think the biggest thing here is that Albertans are feeling frustrated with overreach from Ottawa. This is just one more example of the federal government really not understanding the needs of everyday Albertans. Those Albertans have relied on tradition and passing on tradition to family members, including some these what will now be “Prohibited” firearms.

At the end of the day, as an MLA, as a member of this government, our obligation is to speak to Albertans and hear their interests, which is exactly what this panel will be doing, what this committee will be doing, to provide advice to the minister.

We really need to be protecting private-property rights, especially to Albertans who have firearms that have been legally obtained, and in many cases passed on for generations.

 [Question related to economic growth]

Postmedia, Lisa Johnson: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I’ve got a couple of questions. Minister Schweitzer, you mentioned a $500,000 investment. Is that going directly toward gun testing? And what would be the total cost of the committee or the end date if there is one in mind? And I’m also wondering, you mentioned potential handgun bans, MLA Glasgo. I’m wondering, are you saying you would consider moving to stop municipalities from looking at handgun bans?

Schweitzer: I’ll answer that question regarding the firearms testing.

That funding is about a half-a-million dollars to expand the scope here. We do about 600 tests a year, but this will give us capacity to do 750 firearms tests a year. This will be built out in collaboration with Calgary Police and Edmonton Police. The funding for that will come through the Alberta Law-Enforcement Response Team funding that we have here in the province of Alberta.

And just to speak about the federal government’s intention to bring forward enhanced powers for municipalities, earlier this year when I met with the respective federal ministers, I mentioned to them that this is a no-fly zone in Alberta. We clearly have provincial jurisdiction here. They simply cannot bypass us to go to municipalities. This is our provincial jurisdiction. Alberta will always fight to preserve our rights under the Constitution.

[To Glasgo] Michaela, do you have anything else you want to add?

Glasgo: Just further to Minister Schweitzer’s comments, he went over the legal aspect of this, but at the end of the day, the role of the committee is to consult with everyday Albertans, and provide common-sense solutions as well as a concise plan, and recommendations for the minister. So that’s what we’ll be doing. We’ll be consulting with everyday Albertans and we’ll be hearing their feedback on that.

If it’s any indication of what I’ve heard so far, it’s that Albertans by and large are frustrated with this government’s overreach, and this is another example of that.

Alberta Outdoorsmen Magazine, Neil Waugh: My question is for the Premier. … You’ve just announced — wait for it, drumroll — a committee. And also you’ve announced some spending for something that the RCMP should be doing by themselves with their provincial budget rather than enhancing it, especially in a time when you’re still practicing restraint. In the meantime, my understanding is that legitimate, law- abiding gun owners are now receiving threatening letters from the federal government. Now, I haven’t got mine yet, but I’ve heard that others have. Why aren’t you proactively going after the federal government getting cease-and-desist orders, standing in place, until you can get this whole question of jurisdiction and legality resolved by the courts?

Kenney: Well, we are taking action. We have announced that we will be creating an Alberta Provincial Chief Firearms Officer. When you (Neil Waugh) were covering Ralph Klein back in the day, that’s something he decided not to do. We’re saying that personnel is policy and an Alberta-based Chief Firearms Officer can apply the law in a common-sense way that reflects the reality on the ground in this province. That is a very important, concrete step forward. The whole development of a firearms office in Alberta will in part be informed by the advice we get from the committee that MLA Glasgo will be chairing.

Look, here’s our point. Our point is not about just protecting the legitimate rights of legal, law-abiding firearms owners, but also tackling firearms crime. And that’s why we’re taking a concrete step today.

You’re right Neil, RCMP should have brought the firearms lab here to Alberta a long time ago. They shouldn’t have these eight-month wait times, but the reality is that they do, and if we weren’t to take this action and invest this money now we would still be waiting eight months.

One of the ways that we can protect the rights of legal firearms owners is to crack down on the criminal abuse of firearms.

It will be easier to do so, getting faster results from the lab based here in Alberta. So, that’s concrete action that we’re taking.

Doug do you want to add anything to that?

 Schweitzer: So right now we’re actually working through with law enforcement here in Alberta as well as with our prosecution service to make sure that we have made-in-Alberta policy when it comes to the enforcement of firearms laws that are federal jurisdiction, but we’re working through to make sure we have a consistent policy in the province of Alberta. Let’s focus more on compliance to make sure that people understand what the laws are, versus cracking down and criminalizing individuals that just a month ago were law abiding in what they were doing. Simply, we’re making sure we use common sense in this approach.

Kenney: In terms of your question about taking legal action against Ottawa, we are seriously considering that. We believe, based on the advice we’ve received to date — and we’ll get more from the advisory committee — we believe that individual citizens who are impacted by these new regulations would have stronger standing in a court challenge. And we are serious about potentially coming in to support legal action by an individual citizen or group of citizens by obtaining intervener status to support such a challenge. I see that the Government of Saskatchewan is also considering that, so we might enter into the support of a legal challenge of a private citizen with other provincial governments.

[Question about gay flag]

CBC News, Scott Dippel: Just a couple of quick questions for Minister Schweitzer. Sorry, I just wanted to clarify, you mentioned that the funding would be for 750 tests per year from Alberta. Is that correct?

Schweitzer: It’ll have the capacity to test up to 750 firearms per year through the new firearms lab.

Dippel: OK, is that a ballpark figure for the number of tests coming out of Alberta to the federal lab?

Schweitzer: On average, Alberta has about 600 cases that go to the federal lab per year. So this would give us more than enough capacity, we believe, to handle any heightened needs in any given year.

Dippel: OK and just one other quick point. Could I find out, do you know if other provinces also do not rely on the federal RCMP lab?

 Schweitzer: Perfect example, the City of Calgary and the City of Edmonton have their own labs as well. So this is not something that’s abnormal. This is a strategic investmnt, and we’re building on what we have here in the province of Alberta. 

[More questions]