LEGAL FACT SHEET ON THE CASE OF OSCAR LACOMBE
LET’S BE CLEAR – ALBERTA IS PROSECUTING LACOMBE, NOT OTTAWA
Oscar Lacombe could have been charged for failing to register his rifle under either the Criminal
Code (s. 91) or the Firearms Act (s. 112). These both compel people to register rifles.
The big difference is that Criminal Code section is immune to Charter challenge and the Firearms
Act (being much bigger, more elaborate and more intrusive) is not. By charging registry
violations under the parallel section of the Criminal Code, Ottawa avoids exposing the Firearms
Act to Charter challenge. However, this requires the willing assistance of a provincial attorney
Unlike other federal acts, prosecution of the Criminal Code is solely at the discretion of
provincial attorneys-general. This is as old as Confederation.
It is why Oscar Lacombe’s federal prosecutor identified herself in court as an “agent of the
Provincial Crown in this matter” when the trial opened. Alberta Justice appointed her. It didn’t
have to. It chose to.
By specially authorizing a federal agent “in this matter,” Alberta Justice is prosecuting Oscar
Lacombe. Any statement to the contrary is, to put it politely, disingenuous.
WHY ALBERTA SHOULD STOP
The Firearms Act contains at least 10 grounds for Charter challenge never raised when Alberta
Justice challenged the Act on purely jurisdictional grounds.
To challenge it himself on Charter grounds, Oscar Lacombe relied upon repeated assurances by
the Alberta Justice Department since 1998 that it would leave registry violations to the federal
Justice Department to prosecute under the Firearms Act.
Although police “swear an information” to activate Criminal Code charges, nothing compels
Alberta Justice to prosecute (or appoint an agent to prosecute) if it believes a charge to be
unwarranted or incapable of proof.
Alberta Justice has claimed that because Oscar Lacombe also contravened the Criminal Code by
bringing a firearm to a public meeting, and no such parallel charge exists under the Firearms Act,
it had a duty to proceed.
Not so. That Criminal Code section is to prevent public intimidation. Oscar Lacombe’s stated
intent and the way he pursued it (no firing bolt, no bullets, a sealed rifle, advance notice to police)
did not intimidate anyone.
Although police were right to swear an information on this point, the Alberta attorney-general
had no need to prosecute it. This was plainly political. For this very reason provincial attorneys
general were given discretion over enforcement of the federal Criminal Code in 1867.
ALBERTA SHOULD HAND THIS CASE RIGHT BACK TO THE FEDS
The Lacombe case has been argued and is awaiting a verdict from Edmonton provincial court
Judge David McNab. That verdict has now been held over to an unspecified date in January.
At any stage prior to Judge McNab rendering his decision, the Alberta government can stay the
Criminal Code charges against Oscar Lacombe.
The federal Justice Department would then face a choice: either leave the Firearms Act
unenforced, or charge Oscar Lacombe under the Firearms Act and expose it to an effective
challenge under the Charter of Rights.
Nothing in this provincial course of action would compromise the future ability of Alberta Justice
to enforce the Criminal Code in future.