Years after Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unilaterally imposed his “assault weapon” ban and confiscation (“buyback”), Canada’s responsible gun owners are still waiting for his government to disclose how this “buyback” will be implemented.
One recent sign suggests that the government hopes to recruit private entities, rather than rely on law enforcement or other government agents, to seize, disable, transport, store and dispose of the banned firearms.
In mid-July, the government’s public services and procurement website posted a “Tender Notice – Letter of Interest (LOI)/Request for Information (RFI)” related to the “Buyback Program (BBP),” with a closing date of August 3, 2022. The objective is to “determine the capacities and capabilities that currently exist within the marketplace to deliver on the notional requirements of the envisioned commodity for the BBP,” or, to cut through the government-speak, to gauge whether there is any interest in the private sector to implement the “assault weapon” ban and confiscation on behalf of the federal government.
It is not apparent how or whether this latest government notice ties into the government’s public tender requests in 2020 for designing a model for the “buyback” and compensation. After two successive tender notices failed to spark private sector interest, eventually IBM Canada Ltd. was awarded a contract at the end of 2020, to “develop a range of options and approaches to inform the design and implementation of a potential buyback program for recently prohibited firearms.” This was restricted to consultation and design rather than actual implementation, and that contract period was due to end almost 18 months ago.
The new RFI document asks interested parties to confirm the “licensing, training and experience (of your business and staff) in safely collecting, handling, transporting and storing firearms,” their “current or planned volume and/or capacity to safely collect, handle, transport and/or store” firearms, and describe and confirm the “ability to render firearms inoperable at first point of contact.” Under the “notional requirements” heading, respondents are advised there is a “working controlled receipt rate of 1,000 –1,500 declared [newly prohibited firearms, or NPFs] per day,” and a “working storage volume of 150,000 NPFs.” The daily rate is a floor, not a ceiling, as respondents are asked to specify how their “technologies or solutions would meet the initial working rate of 1,000 – 1,500 prohibited firearms/scans a day and how they would handle increases in that volume” (emphasis added).
The “vast majority of impacted firearms are expected to be located in urban areas” across Canada, although information is requested as to whether the respondents have the ability to “collect, handle, transport and/or store NPFs in non-urban, rural, remote, northern and/or First Nations communities.”
Annex B of the document indicates that once collected, the firearms will be “rendered inoperable” and transported to a storage facility, before being “disabled by qualified handlers.” The RFI states that “Canada is considering the use of equipment to render firearms inoperable at first point of contact; upon receipt and before transport or storage (i.e. permanently bending the barrel and/or other alternatives).”
Based on this RFI, the chosen contractor (“supplier”) will need to have, at a minimum, adequate numbers of trained and knowledgeable staff, all of whom must be able to legally possess and handle prohibited firearms and who meet prescribed screening/clearance requirements (“[u]nscreened personnel may not be used”). Other essentials are vehicles, transport or shipping services; warehouse or storage facilities; chain of custody/asset tagging/tracking technology; security for transport and storage facilities; and an “environmentally-friendly destruction capacity that may allow for the recycling” of the firearm parts. The supplier will “be required to use its IT systems to electronically process, produce or store PROTECTED and/or CLASSIFIED information or data” (emphasis in original), which means this information, too, has to be secured against unauthorized use, tampering or leaks. All of the services and infrastructure must remain compliant with federal, provincial and local laws.
The RFI makes no mention of budget allocations or funding, consistent with the government failure, to date, to provide information on the actual cost of implementing the confiscation program. Apart from a commitment to offer “fair compensation” to affected owners, public officials have been cagey about the financial impact, and estimates of the overall cost continue to climb (here, here and here). One factor that will likely affect any private-sector price tag is the number of firearms involved. Last year, a report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) indicated that the number of firearms subject to the ban was unknown but gave a possible range of anywhere between 150,000 and 518,000 guns, although the total could be considerably higher because the RCMP has added, to the models listed in the original Order in Council, the “variants” and copies the agency has decided are also banned guns.
Regarding timing, the RFI refers to the amnesty period for possessing the banned guns (extended once already) and its expiration on October 30, 2023. However, the RFI is “neither a call for tender nor a Request for Proposals (RFP)…This RFI is not to be considered as a commitment to issue a subsequent solicitation or award contract(s) for the work described herein.” Assuming Trudeau’s government is committed to exploring this private sector implementation option, the RFI outlines the next steps that should occur before the October deadline as an “initial industry engagement through this RFI,” then a “2nd RFI,” an “Invitation to Qualify (ITQ),” a “Draft RFP to Qualified Suppliers,” the RFP, and finally, “Contract(s) Award.” Annex B indicates that a “mail, email, and advertising campaign” is envisioned as part of the public notification process, before the confiscation period begins. Using just the PBO’s upper range of 518,000 firearms and the RFI top rate of processing 1,500 guns/day, the supplier will need at least 345 days to work through the “commodity stream,” exclusive of weekends, holidays, travel or other “down time.”
Gun owners (“clients”) will not be eligible to receive a penny of the promised fair compensation until after their gun has been seized, rendered inoperable, “verifiers confirm the eligibility of the firearm,” and approval has been given to make the payment, as outlined in Annex B. In case of a dispute, an “expert panel may review verification failures and special cases as required.” Even then, the RFI makes no mention of the contractor administering the compensation scheme, which means a separate government process for handling payments, including claims for failed, misdirected or inadequate compensation. In any event, there is no compensation offered for the deprivation of the use of the banned firearms, which use has been prohibited since May 2020. Owners, too, will bear the risk of loss when the wrong firearm is listed or taken, the “verifiers” fail to find the gun eligible, or approval for compensation is not given – the permanent disabling intended at the “first point of contact” leaves the owner with a useless and worthless former firearm.
So far, not much of the proposed scheme looks functional, even on paper.
The bigger issue is why Trudeau and his government (otherwise so stridently righteous about the “assault weapon” law) are seeking to erase themselves as much as possible from its implementation by offloading the work on the private sector. A cynical guess is that Trudeau, who famously propounds a “sunny ways” mantra of governing, is anxious to put maximum daylight between himself and the toxic, defining moment of his gun ban and mandatory confiscation scheme, the shameful point when thousands of farmers, hunters, sports shooters, veterans and other responsible Canadians are compelled to surrender their property for immediate destruction.