Government documents project Liberals' gun buyback to cost nearly $2B, double minister's estimates

The government has yet to release public figures on what the confiscation would cost taxpayers

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OTTAWA — Internal government documents from 2019 put the cost of a government mandatory gun buyback at nearly $2 billion, despite assurances during the last federal election that expropriating so-called “assault rifles” from licensed Canadian firearms owners would only cost between $400 million and $600 million. 

In documents published as part of an access-to-information request, an internal presentation prepared in December 2019 by the Department of Justice puts the cost of confiscating what it described as “military-style assault rifles,” with compensation for the owners, at more than double the figure touted by then public safety minister Bill Blair.

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“Amendments to the classification regulations and a new amnesty order could be brought into force in the short-term (six months) as they do not require legislation,” reads page 10 of the presentation, formatted as a PowerPoint slide deck. 

Over three years after it was announced, the federal government has yet to release any sound estimates on what the expropriation would cost taxpayers.

According to the deck, the government’s so-called “buyback” program could be implemented “in the near term (one to two years),” would require programming with a design and implementation regime “beyond any precedent” that operates “outside existing authorities of departments and agencies,” and promises such a move would be “costly,” putting administration and compensation costs at $1.8 billion.

The documents were originally published by thegunblog.ca. 

Excerpt from a 2019 slide deck on a potential government firearms confiscation.
Excerpt from a 2019 slide deck on a potential government firearms confiscation.

That number is higher than estimates given out during the 2019 federal election by Blair, who pegged the cost of a buyback at between $400 million and $600 million. 

In a December 2019 Privy Council Office memo, also published earlier this year by thegunblog.ca, officials were a bit more frank on how much the gun grab would cost. 

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“At this time, preliminary costs for the buyback program are estimated at ranging between $850 million to $1 billion,” read an unredacted portion of a sentence in the memo, under the heading “UPDATE — Firearms.”

“Of note, the costing could also fluctuate, as the number of non-restricted firearms could be higher than the proxy used in the costing assessment.”

In 2019, when the Liberals’ far-reaching gun control policy was in its infancy, plans to confiscate rifles prohibited under the new rules were intended to be entirely voluntary. 

That changed in 2021, when Quebec-based anti-gun group PolySeSouvient publicly disinvited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from future memorials of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre over the government’s decision to make the gun confiscation voluntary. 

In an interview with Radio-Canada, PolySeSouvient accused Trudeau of “betraying” and “abandoning” victims of gun violence.

Official government policy would soon be revised to make the gun grab mandatory, and the prime minister appeared at that year’s École Polytechnique memorial in Montreal. 

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This new policy was enshrined in a December 2021 mandate letter to newly minted Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, instructing him to make it compulsory for “owners to sell banned assault weapons back to the government for destruction or have them rendered inoperable at the government’s expense.”

An order-in-council introduced May 1, 2020, reclassified scores of commonly owned firearms as prohibited, including variants of the AR-15 long rifle, the Ruger Mini-14, and SIG’s MCX and MPX firearms.

That was followed by the May 2022 tabling of Bill C-21, the government’s wide-ranging gun control legislation, currently under committee consideration in the Senate. 

The National Post reached out to both Public Safety Canada and the office of Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc for comment.

A 2020 court challenge spearheaded by the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR) challenging the order-in-council was struck down in Federal Court late last month — a decision the organization vows to appeal.

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How much the confiscation will cost has been a popular subject around Parliament Hill. 

A 2021 report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer put the cost of a federal gun grab as high as $756 million. 

Today — four years after the last federal election and more than three years since the May 1, 2020, order-in-council — the federal government has yet to announce plans for a confiscation program. 

Last month, Ottawa once again extended the amnesty period for owners caught in the May 2020 order-in-council for another two years.

Earlier this year, Public Safety Canada announced a $700,000 partnership with the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association (CSAAA) to facilitate compensation for retailers left with millions of dollars in unsellable merchandise. 

Phase 2 of this program, which will focus on confiscating firearms from their legal owners, has yet to be announced. 

A series of now-withdrawn amendments introduced by the Trudeau Liberals while C-21 was at committee stage would have expanded the list of outlawed firearms even further — but those were walked back by the government after protests from Canadian hunters, sport shooters and First Nations groups. 

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Last November, Simon Fraser University Professor Gary Mauser wrote the cost of the confiscation could easily add another billion dollars on top of the PBO’s $756 million estimate — due to the sheer number of rifles caught by the legislation that see common use by Canadian firearm owners.

This week, Mauser says the government should be well aware that confiscating hundreds of thousands of firearms would be prohibitively expensive, and are hesitant to publicly reveal the program’s true costs. 

“Telling the truth would destroy their narrative,” Mauser told the National Post. 

“Even this ‘internal estimate’ of $1.8 billion is much higher than what they say they’re spending on diverting youth from gangs — just $50 million for five years. A pittance.”

Mauser pointed out that the Department of Justice memo contains no information on how officials came to that $1.8 billion figure.

“The truth is — as found by Nicolas (Johnson) at thegunblog.ca — the government doesn’t know how to collect the newly banned guns,” Mauser said.

“Canada Post rejected a proposal, IBM proposed a few alternatives, the police rejected proposals.”

Even as late as last summer, the federal government was issuing RFIs (Requests for Information) seeking guidance to develop a firearms confiscation program. 

• Email: [email protected] | X: bryanpassifiume

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