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No gun ban for man charged with sexual violence against minor

St. Albert court finds Alberta Chief Firearms Office's policy at odds with Canada's Firearms Act
St. Albert provincial court.

A justice in St. Albert decided on Monday that it was “unreasonable” to revoke the firearms licence of a man who is charged with sexual violence against a minor.

In July 2023, the man took a job at the Wild West Shooting Centre in West Edmonton Mall. During a mandatory background check, a provincial firearm officer found the man could not hold a firearm Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) because he had five outstanding charges involving sexual contact with a minor in the Northwest Territories.

The man was released from custody in the Northwest Territories with conditions stipulating no contact with the alleged victim and prohibiting him from having firearms. However, the firearm condition was later removed.

The man appeared on his own behalf in his application to get his PAL reinstated. In his testimony, he described how the charges against him left him “unemployable,” and claimed the shooting range was one of the few places where he could make a living and not break the restrictions of his release order.

He testified he had been working in the military and aside from the charges he is facing in the Northwest Territories, had a “pristine” criminal record.

He also testified he spoke with a firearms agent in 2022, and the agent found no issue with him possessing firearms provided he wasn’t purchasing more of the weapons.

The man's charges had not been proven in court and were four years old. Two of the five charges have been dropped.

The officer who revoked the licence found aside from the charges in the Northwest Territories, there were no concerns regarding the man's eligibility to hold a firearms licence. However, he revoked the licence because it is the policy of Alberta’s Chief Firearms Office (ACFO) anyone who commits, or is charged with, sexual violence against a minor cannot have firearms.

This was the major sticking point for Justice Gregory Rice.

In his decision, Rice found that ACFO policy is at odds with Canada’s Firearms Act.

The Firearms Act gives officers discretion over whether to revoke the licence of someone who has been convicted of, or is facing charges for, certain crimes. It is not mandatory for an officer to revoke a licence, and the officer must exercise some judgment in the decision.

By acting only in accordance with ACFO policy and not considering the Firearms Act, the officer erred in revoking the man’s licence.

Rice said he agreed possessing firearms is a privilege and that sexual abuse of a child is a violent offence. But he also found the decision to revoke the licence was “unreasonable” and “unjustified.”

He decided there was no clear evidence that it would be a concern for public safety for the man to have a licence.

The charges against him are serious, Rice said, but most of the time he had a licence, he had acted responsibly.

One reason the ACFO has a policy to revoke the firearms licences of people charged with committing sex crimes against children is to decrease suicide risks, Rice commented after giving his decision.

Taking away the man's ability to keep his job did not help to reduce those risks, Rice found. 

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