A Virden man is trying to raise $100,000 on GoFundMe for a legal challenge to a new federal firearms ban, and is halfway to his fundraising goal after a few days.
On May 1, 2020 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will be enacting a firearms ban on military-grade assault-style weapons.
The ban covers 1,500 types of firearms and stops licensed gun owners from selling, transporting, importing, or using these weapons in Canada. The ban was enacted through an order-in-council from cabinet and not through legislation.
There’s a two-year amnesty period that allows gun owners to comply with the ban and firearms owners must be in compliance with the ban by April 30, 2022 or they could face sanctions under the criminal code. Details on a potential buyback program and grandfathering process have yet to be announced.
As a response to Canada’s firearm ban, John Hipwell has initiated a fundraising campaign for a legal challenge to the order-in-council. Hipwell is the founder of Wolverine Supplies — a firearms store now run by his son Matt and daughter in-law Genn — in Virden and has been involved with firearms for over 50 years.
Hipwell has started a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/f/judicial-oic-challenge-john-hipwell-amp-ed-burlew) with a goal of $100,000 to help with legal costs and is currently looking for those who have been impacted by the firearm ban. As of June 8, the GoFundMe had raised $48,100 from 608 donors.
“We are currently looking for firearm owners who have or are currently using a firearm chambered in Weatherby .460 (or similar) or a rifle chambered in .50 BMG (or similar) for hunting grizzly bears, walrus or narwhals in Canada,” reads the GoFundMe page. “Also, anyone who uses a Mini 14/30 or the Robinson Armament XCR platform for hunting or predator control. Finally anyone who has or is currently using the CZ Scorpion Evo III, an AR-15/M4 or variant, CZ 858 or variant, Beretta CX4 Storm, or the Sig MCX/MPX platform of firearms.”
“We need to know how this OIC (order-in-council) has impacted on your shooting hobby, and if you work within the firearms/outdoor industry how it has impacted your business. If you own other firearms that have been affected, please advise us on these as well, as there has been many others affected. If you are one of these people and are willing to provide a signed affidavit to testify in court, if required, please indicate that as well.”
“The response has been very strong, I have received well over 300+ communications and letters within the first 48 hours. I plan to use everyone’s email in support of my own affidavit, so keep them coming as your efforts will not be wasted! However, we will only require a very few to sign affidavits and possibly appear in court along side us. My goal is to raise $100,000 so we do not find ourselves in a tough situation due to lack of funds,” states the GoFundMe. “Any funds left over when the action is concluded will be dispersed to a Canadian firearms support or advocacy organization.”
Hipwell says the plan to go forward with a judicial review wasn’t immediate, but knowing someone needed to step up he took it on.
“I’m retired and I’ve got nothing better to do! Seriously though, enough is enough,” he told the World-Spectator. “I couldn’t sit back and not do anything. There was a week or so when I was reeling in shock and sitting back waiting for other groups to take the bull by the horns. I was talking to Edward Burlew — a firearms lawyer I’d known for many years out of Toronto — and it sort of all came together.”
“I think we’ve got six different groups in Canada, that I know of, that are taking this issue to federal court and one to provincial court. Here, everybody is horrified and the Liberals have made no pretence that this is all they’re doing. Every indication is this is just the first step of several that they’re going to take. If everybody was to sit back and just take it, then they’ll keep giving it.”
The use of an order-in-council to push the firearms ban through is Hipwell’s biggest issue with the situation.
“To me it’s an affront to democracy,” he said. “I think it’s an abuse of parliamentary procedure that they use an order-in-council when they don’t have the weight to carry a bill through parliament. In an order-in-council, it’s a done deal. The bureaucrats draft it and on this occasion it was signed behind locked doors, in secrecy. There’s no debate, it’s just done.”
“There is a need for order-in-council in parliamentary procedures, but they’re usually used in times of emergency where something has to happen quickly or they’re used to fine tune a bill that’s already gone through all the processes. On a bill in 1995, the specifications on how the attorney general can prohibit firearms with an order-in-council was changed because it used to read anything that wasn’t considered suitable for hunting and sporting purposes. They changed it to read, anything ‘in the opinion’ of the attorney general is not suitable for hunting and sporting purposes. Well, you can’t change somebody’s opinion. Your opinion could be the sky is red and I think you’re full of it because I know it’s blue, but you’re entitled to your opinion.”
“They say these guns are not suitable for hunting or sporting purposes,” he said. “Yet for the last 25 years they’ve been giving permits out to thousands of people to take the AR-15 to the range for sporting purposes. What evidence has said that something changed overnight?”
After putting together the GoFundMe and asking for firearms owners to let him know how they’ve been impacted, Hipwell says the support started to pour in.
“On one form I asked for people to send in a signed statement on how the order-in-council affected them and would they be willing to sign an affidavit and appear in court? And I’ve got over 360 at this point in time,” he said. “The vast majority of them have said they’d be willing to sign an affidavit and I’d bet at least half of them would go to court.”
“The percentage of police officers and military that have contacted me and sent these statements is a large proportion. As a percentage of our population the law enforcement community would be a fraction of a percent, but close to a third of what I’ve received has come from them. Professional people that have bought these firearms so they can hone their skills because there isn’t adequate training provided for these people.”
Hipwell is hopeful and confident that the judicial review will at least lead to change with the firearms ban.
“Historically I don’t think there’s ever been a case where a government firearms bill has been immediately taken to court,” he said.
“Yet this has been taken to court by six or seven different groups for a variety of reasons. I can’t see all of the cases being decided in the governments favour. The CCFR are pushing to have an injunction and have the OIC struck down and suspended until it’s corrected.”
“Two of the words they use in the OIC that are disturbing are the AR-15 and variants, but there is no legal definition of the word variant. The other thing they’ve also put in there is, any firearm capable of generating 10,000 joules of energy. Well, you can calculate joules of energy and the disturbing thing is it says ‘any firearm capable.’ Just about any hunting rifle out there is capable of doing that — you might have to change the barrel — so this is open ended.”
“They’ve never before put an energy figure out there so this is setting a precedent in its own right,” he said. “What’s to stop them from next year saying 5,000 joules? Again, it’s poorly drafted and poorly written. That might not be their intent to do that today, but we can’t leave it alone because it could be somebody else’s intent in the future.”
Hipwell says, the lack of clarity and detail with the order-in-council are a major issue and the government has yet to clear anything up.
“I’ll tell you what, do a bill of sale for your truck and I’ll take it and then sometime in the next two years I’ll tell you what I’m going to pay you for it,” he said. “There’s no formula, they haven’t said they’re going to pay 90 per cent of the 2019 price, they haven’t said if they’ll be paying for accessories. Let’s say they say an AR-15 is $1,000, well some of the cheap ones might be, but there’s people out there with $3,000-$5,000 tied up in a rifle when you add on the accessories.”
“If they prohibited golf and said they’d buy back our golf clubs, what about my electric golf caddy? Well you can keep that or you can sell that, but it’s no damn good if you take my golf clubs and who wants to buy it if golf is prohibited? It would be the same as a firearm and its accessories. We can keep the accessories, but they’re no longer of any value.”
“With the grandfathering clause, they indicated that was part of it at the beginning, but in recent communications they’ve dropped all mention of grandfathering,” he said.
“There’s just a lot of things that haven’t been thought through,” he said. “There’s a two-year amnesty — I’ve got firearms impacted by this so I’ve got to keep them locked up at home — well, what happens if I’m changing jobs and moving to Alberta next week? They can’t answer questions like this. All of the registration certificates have been expired and if you don’t have a registration certificate then they can’t give you a permit to move it.”
With many major firearms being banned, Hipwell says, there are other options out there that remain legal, but he wonders at what point will they be taken away too?
“The AR-15 is the most popular firearm for shooting,” he said. “There are alternatives, but they’ve also indicated that if this order-in-council forces people to look for a new firearm that became popular they would ban that one too. It’s very open ended.”
“It states, ‘there’s also a risk that affected firearm owners may elect to replace their firearms with models unaffected by the ban causing a market displacement. This risk may be mitigated by adding additional makes and models to the list of prohibited firearms in the future.’ The idea there is to put the fear of god into gun owners so they won’t even think of buying another gun.”
“Firearms are very complicated and the laws are very confusing, this regulation is no different than anything else and it’s also very poorly drafted with lots of ambiguity,” he said. “It’s scary stuff.”