A firearms retailer and a gun manufacturer in Alberta have launched a constitutional challenge against the federal government’s recent ban on “assault-style rifles.”
J.R. Cox, owner of The Shooting Edge, a Calgary-based firearms store and shooting range, and Steven Arena, director of Sterling Arms, a gun manufacturer that supplies firearms to The Shooting Edge, are arguing that the Liberals’ order-in-council banning 1,500 types of firearms violates the constitutional principles of rule of law, constitutionalism, and democracy.
Represented by Calgary lawyer Greg Dunn, Cox and Arena are calling for an Alberta superior court to issue an injunction preventing the ban from being valid in the province until the case is heard.
VICE has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
In early May, following the Nova Scotia mass murder which left 22 dead (13 were shot and nine killed in fires), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair revealed that they would be reclassifying 1,500 “assault style rifles” as prohibited, effective immediately. There is a two-year amnesty period, allowing for gun owners and retailers to become compliant with the new regulations. The banned guns are no longer allowed to be manufactured, fired, sold, transferred, imported, or exported.
The government stated that it would announce a buyback program for the newly-banned guns, but has not released any details about that program.
Guns in Canada are classified as non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited.
Rather than drafting legislation to make the changes in Parliament, the government used an order-in-council, a regulatory mechanism that allows the RCMP to reclassify guns.
The challenge argues the order-in-council’s purpose is to efficiently classify new guns on the market and is not intended "to fulfill election promises on gun control” without parliamentary oversight. It says that “wide sweeping reclassifications of large numbers of firearms” contrary to the criteria set out in the Firearms Act are outside the scope of the order-in-council.
The challenge goes on to list a number of other reasons that the order-in-council should be considered unconstitutional.
It argues that the ban is in violation of a restriction that says an order-in-council can’t be used to classify a gun as prohibited if that gun “is reasonable for use in Canada for hunting or sporting purposes.” The challenge also says an order-in-council doesn’t “expressly permit” the reclassification of guns already deemed to be non-restricted and restricted to prohibited.
The challenge also notes the business losses incurred by Cox and Arena as a result of the ban.
“The Shooting Edge is in possession of significant inventory of sporting rifles, now prohibited firearms, which are no longer saleable to the general public and as a consequence rendered worthless,” the challenge says, adding that Sterling Arms’ intellectual property for the SAI 102 firearm has been “rendered worthless.”
“Ultimately, our application is not about guns, it's about the democratic process,” Dunn said. “It’s about treating people fairly. This application could easily be about a myriad of other areas. It just happens to be that this one has to do with firearms.”
Cox told VICE he is filing his challenge in an Alberta court as opposed to federal court, like the other challenges, because the province will ultimately administer the new regulations.
“I strongly feel that these laws cannot be made in a bubble and (applied) to all Canadians,” he said. “If I want to have a fair day in court, I stand a much better chance being judged by my peers in Alberta than by Liberal appointees in Ontario.”
He said he raised $74,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to support the challenge and is prepared to "follow this through."