The federal Liberal government has given itself an extra two years to establish a long-promised buyback program for firearms it banned in the wake of the deadly 2020 Nova Scotia shooting rampage.
An amnesty period that was set to expire at the end of the month will now remain in place until Oct. 30, 2025 — after the next federal election is scheduled to take place.
On Wednesday, staff quietly added that update to Public Safety Canada’s website, prompting concern from gun-control advocates and, on the other hand, relief for those representing firearms owners and retailers.
The amnesty applies to those who own one of the more than 1,500 models and variants of “assault-style” firearms that Ottawa banned, saying guns such as the AR-15 have no place in Canadian communities.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the ban in May 2020, within days of a gunman in Nova Scotia committing the deadliest mass shooting in modern Canadian history.
The Liberals promised to compensate those who owned such weapons through a buyback program and gave firearms owners a two-year amnesty under the Criminal Code.
The Liberals first promised to launch such a program during the 2019 federal election, which Trudeau won, and again during the party’s successful 2021 campaign.
But in early 2022, the government announced that the buyback measures were still in the works, and extended the amnesty until October 2023.
Wednesday’s extension pushes the deadline to 10 days past the day when election law stipulates the next election must be held, though an election could be called sooner.
In a brief statement, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the government is “committed to putting in place a firearms buyback program that will allow law-abiding gun owners to turn in their firearms and be compensated.”
“While we work on putting it in place, we made the decision to extend the amnesty order to October 30, 2025,” Jean-Sébastien Comeau said in an email.
The group Ottawa announced it would work with to craft the commercial side of the buyback program said Wednesday that extending the amnesty was inevitable.
Wes Winkel, president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, said some retailers with affected stock were getting nervous as the late-October deadline loomed.
While the government is still in the early stages of sorting out what a compensation program could look like for businesses, Winkel said he believes a buyback could be launched by October 2025, at least on the commercial side.
But he added that retailers are frustrated because they have to eat the cost of having to store, warehouse and insure the prohibited firearms.
“We have members that are paying over $30,000 a year just to insure the prohibited inventory.”
For Winkel, the Liberals’ decision to push back its amnesty order yet again raises questions about whether the ban was really needed as urgently as the government initially insisted.
“Was there really a need for a real rapid prohibition to go through?”
Tracey Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, said in a statement that extending the amnesty “proves to every Canadian” that firearms that will have been banned for upwards of five years “don’t pose a risk to public safety in the hands of licensed owners.”
Alberta Conservative MP Dane Lloyd, who serves as the party’s critic in Parliament for emergency preparedness, struck a similar tone Wednesday, saying in an online post that “the Liberals don’t view firearms as a public safety issue.”
“It’s all about politics and division,” he posted on X, the platform previously known as Twitter.
Melissa Lantsman, one of the Conservatives’ deputy leaders, also told The Canadian Press in an interview that the money the government plans to spend on the buyback program could be redirected to other “safety mechanisms” and “not taking away property that they don’t own.”
The parliamentary budget officer said in 2021 that such a program would cost upwards of $750 million.
The Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, a gun-control advocacy group, said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “disappointed in the absence of a clear plan for the buyback to accompany the extension of the amnesty.”
It said it received no warning that an extension was coming and planned to raise concerns directly with LeBlanc.
“The lack of progress to implement the buyback program, three-and-a-half years after the initial prohibitions were announced, is extremely disconcerting,” PolySeSouvient said in a statement.
The prominent gun-control advocacy group includes students and graduates of Montreal’s École Polytechnique, where a gunman killed 14 women with a Ruger Mini-14 in 1989.
It said the amnesty extension “is a testament to the government’s overall mishandling of the assault weapon file,” including Bill C-21.
That legislation, which the Senate is still considering, was panned by many firearms owners, the Assembly of First Nations and the federal Conservatives because it was seen as an attempt to ban rifles commonly used by hunters.
The bill’s progress through the House of Commons was sidelined for months amid backlash over a proposed definition that would have extended the ban cover an additional 482 models of guns.
The government ultimately pulled that definition and opted instead for a regulatory approach that would ensure guns are classified correctly before entering the Canadian market.
“The repeated delays of the launch of the promised mandatory buyback program does nothing to make Canadians safer from the risks associated with tens of thousands of fully functional assault-style weapons that remain in circulation and that can inflict massive injury and death if used for lethal purposes,” PolySeSouvient said in its statement.
Suzanne Zaccour, director of legal affairs for the National Association of Women and the Law, said her group is concerned about whether a buyback program will now happen at all.
She attributed much of the difficulty around getting it done to the circulation of false information about the Liberals’ gun-control efforts.
“Still today on this issue, there is a ton of misinformation.”