Alberta's justice minister says provincial prosecutors are to take over the handling of charges under the federal Firearms Act starting in the new year.

Tyler Shandro says he is also advising Alberta's prosecutors that the province does not consider it to be in the public interest to go after law-abiding owners of banned weapons — although he can’t tell them when to lay charges.

Shandro says he has written to his federal counterpart, David Lametti, to advise him of the change starting Jan. 1.

He said the change is being done using existing constitutional rules and does not involve Alberta’s recently passed sovereignty act.

“Alberta is taking this jurisdiction back,” Shandro told reporters Thursday.

“Alberta’s Crown prosecutors will now determine whether or not to pursue charges under the Firerarms Act — not federal government lawyers.”

Lametti, speaking to reporters in Ottawa, said he received the letter.

“More needs to be known about how they plan to proceed, but we’re studying it,” said Lametti.

“Criminal Code firearms offences are already prosecuted by provincial prosecutors for the most part across Canada.”

#Alberta says it will take control of prosecutions for banned firearms from Ottawa. #ABPoli #CDNPoli #GunControl #AssaultStyleFirearms

The move reflects the province’s concern over a federal ban on a range of firearms implemented in May 2020. Those who possess these banned firearms have until the end of October 2023 to turn them in under an amnesty.

Shandro said he is advising prosecutors that if they plan to charge someone for having a banned weapon, they should consider whether the person owned the weapon before the ban and whether the owner is being charged with crimes related to using the banned weapon.

He said the aim is to prevent criminalizing people who bought the guns in good faith before the ban and continue to use them responsibly.

The fall sitting of the federal Liberal government ended Wednesday with the government’s contentious gun-control legislation still yet to pass. The bill has received widespread criticism over a recent amendment added by a Liberal member of Parliament that seeks to enshrine the definition of an assault-style weapon into the legislation.

The proposed list of firearms that would fall under that label include popular hunting rifles. The amendment has angered hunters, sport shooters and Indigenous groups, including the Assembly of First Nations.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said it's not their intention to outlaw hunting firearms and are open to tweaking the bill.

In Alberta, Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said his party shares concern over the broad definition of weapons in the amendment to the federal bill.

“Governing should be about balancing competing interests,” said Sabir. “Everything should not be a political drama."

Sabir declined to offer an opinion on the merits of Shandro’s announcement. But Sabir said he wants to see the exact wording of the new direction to prosecutors to ensure the United Conservative government is not overstepping its bounds by telling them when to lay charges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 15, 2022.

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