In his Mandate letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Prime Minister Trudeau gave the highest priority to prohibiting and confiscating “military-style assault rifles”. Owners who cooperate will be compensated.
Speculation about the cost of this “buy back” has zeroed in on how much owners will be paid for surrendering their guns. CBC reported that Minister Blair claimed the cost for the “buy back” of roughly 250,000 firearms would be between $400 million and $600 million. That is, if owners comply.
The full cost of the “buy back” isn’t just $600 million; it’s much more.
Focusing on reimbursement costs is misleading because it ignores the biggest expense: government staff work. Prohibiting and confiscating 250,000 firearms is a complex undertaking and would involve considerable government resources. It would be impossible to do with the current police resources.
Multi-billion dollar boondoggle
But how much will tax payers be billed for this boondoggle? The government has been silent. No budget for the “buy back” program has yet been announced.
My best estimate for Trudeau’s confiscation plan is in the billions. Remember: all of the firearms to be confiscated were legally purchased by Canadians who the RCMP screened and approved. These firearms are being confiscated because they might be used in violent crime. No firearms in the hands of criminals are involved in this “buy back.”
Here’s a rough outline of the steps involved in the nation-wide confiscation program:
 plans need to be drawn up for the entire project and agreement won from Cabinet,
 new information processing capacity evaluated and possibly new computer systems developed,
 owners must be identified and notified,
 organization structures set up for collecting the firearms (e.g., arranging office space for each collection point),
 staffing the collection points so that the surrendered firearms may be assessed,
 venders engaged to destroy the collected guns,
 cheques written to the former owners, and
 the collection shipped off to be destroyed.
 Plus, of course, there will be a sophisticated advertising program to persuade the public that confiscating legally purchased and legally used firearms will “make Canada safer.”
Do not forget the entire process requires serious security measures to prevent both theft and corruption. We’ve seen news reports of government-collected knives stolen from government collection points. And government employees are not all honest angels. Or even competent.
A major fly in the ointment is that no one knows how many owners will refuse to surrender their newly prohibited firearms, or if they do decide to submit, how many will simply wait until the deadline and show up in a last-minute tsunami. A previous Liberal government botched licensing and registration back in the 1990s, so it’s not obvious that Justin Trudeau’s “buy back” will be any better organized. It could well be worse than Chrétien’s.
Accurately estimating the entire budget for the Public Safety Minister’s confiscation of thousands of semi-auto rifles is beyond my limited abilities. But I can make a rough estimate of costs for at least one stage in the complex process: the cost of collecting the guns to be surrendered. Hundreds of thousands of firearms will need to be collected from hundreds of thousands of individuals. The experience of the New Zealand Police in 2019 to confiscate scary-looking “military-style” semi-automatic rifles provides a template that Canada might follow. Canadian authorities would be well advised to do so.
My best estimate
Here is a back-of-the-envelope effort to estimate the governmental costs of collecting 250,000 guns required to be surrendered extrapolated from the New Zealand template to Canada. The New Zealand Police set up “collection events” at 524 collection points around their country in order to collect the estimated 175,000 newly prohibited guns in their “buy back” effort.
Since Canada is much larger than New Zealand, both in population and geographic extent, to keep the same ratio, Canada must have many more collection points. Canada’s population is more than 7 times that of New Zealand’s, and it is geographically 37 times larger.
|Guns to be collected||2019 Population||Geographic size (km2)||Number of Collection Points|
|New Zealand||175,000||4.8 million||268,000||524|
|Canada||250,000||37.6 million||10 million||4,100 to 19,500|
Comparing Canada with New Zealand
If Canadian police want to make surrendering guns practical, they would need to follow the New Zealand model. Canada would require between 4,000 and 19,500 collection points.
Each collection point would need to be staffed – either hiring new police officers or diverting current police personnel away from other, less important, policing duties, such as solving murder cases, arresting violent criminals, or handing out speeding tickets.
The New Zealand Police do not report how the collection points were staffed. At a minimum, collection points might only work one 8-hour shift per day (e.g., noon to 8 pm), so the staffing requirements would range from 1 to 3 people per collection point. Security is vital, so three employees would likely be necessary: a clerk, a manager, and a security guard. Managers will be required to supervise this work force, as well as high-ranking civil servants to oversee the process. This gives a minimum of 4,100 to a maximum of over 58,000 police officers that would be required to staff these collection points.
Because safe handling firearms requires training and a high-level of responsibility, it is doubtful the Public Safety Minister would want to employ low-skilled civilian office workers, but would prefer police officers for these tasks. Statistics Canada reports that in 2017/18, the average police salary was $100,000 per annum (including both sworn officers and civilian employees). This is a lower bound of how much staff members cost taxpayers. If the cost per collection employee is estimated using the operating expenses for Canadian police divided by the number of police personnel (officers and civilian employees both), the cost per staff member is $150,000.
|Assumption||Number of Collection Points||Staff at Each Collection Point||Total Staff||Cost per Employee||Total Cost for Collecting Guns|
|Best Estimate||6,000||3||18,000||$150,000||2.7 billion|
Estimating Costs for Government Staff to Collect Guns
Based on these assumptions, I guesstimate it would cost the Canadian taxpayer between $400 million to almost $9 billion in the first year to collect the firearms required to be surrendered. This range is embarrassingly wide due to the lack of information and the numerous assumptions that need to be made. After including compensation costs, and the costs of the remaining stages in this boondoggle, my best estimate is that the cost for this egregious boondoggle will be $3 to $5 billion.
Remember, this is just part of the government’s costs. For example, I have made no attempt to estimate the costs involved with  new information processing equipment or systems,  sending out notices informing law abiding citizens that their property is to be confiscated,  contracting for and destroying the guns collected,  arresting and charging anyone who refuses to submit, nor  the costs of the inevitable public relations campaigns.
Corruption is always possible in large-scale government projects. The Auditor General found corruption in the Chrétien government effort to licence gun owners back in 2002, what will be discovered if and when the Auditor General turns over the rocks in Justin Trudeau’s government?
Will Canadians willingly surrender their newly prohibited firearms? Firearms that they purchased legally, and have used in a safe and legal manner since they bought them? It will be difficult to refuse to comply. Because many of the firearms are registered, the police have the names and addresses of the owners of most of the semi-automatic rifles scheduled for confiscation. However, a large share of semi-automatic firearms are “non restricted,” and in principle, not registered. Those owners will be difficult to identify. To do so, the police would need to comb through sales records of a large number of retailers. Of course, by the time the police track down the original purchaser, he or she may have sold the firearm to another individual, and private sales do not have to be recorded.
Owners of banned firearms can legally appeal the confiscation order. They may well lose the appeal, but such action would delay the eventual forfeiture of the newly prohibited firearm. If a large number of owners appeal, the costs of confiscation begin to mount up.
Court costs are estimated at between $12,000 – 16,000, including lost wages for those involved, the cost of lawyers, court personnel, judge, sheriff, and clerks.
Approximately 250,000 Canadians own a semiautomatic firearm that meets the criteria for being prohibited and confiscated. Enforcement costs for 10,000 court cases will range between 120 million and 160 million dollars.
To sum up
My calculations illustrate that just one stage of the “buy back” is likely a multi-billion dollar bureaucratic process. A complete costing would include the cost of many more steps, including, sending notices out to owners, IT systems, destruction of firearms, and court costs for dealing with anyone who refuses to submit.
None of this deals directly with gangsters or terrorists. All the firearms will be confiscated from owners who the RCMP has screened and approved. None of the firearms is being confiscated because it has been used in a violent crime. No firearms are being taken away from criminals.
Make no mistake: this is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle. Taxpayers are being billed for an enormously expensive [if useless] governmental project.
Try to imagine what police, immigration, social services, K-12 education, or welfare agencies could do with a few extra billion dollars.
Canadians evidently deserve to get what they voted for — good and hard.