After Ontario Member of Parliament Paul Chiang introduced multiple new amendments to a federal firearms bill earlier this month, various rifles were added to the ban list, such as some long guns.
Although the amendments are aimed at keeping the population safe from mass shootings and gun violence, Indigenous leaders have been expressing concerns about how the proposed legislation might infringe on the rights of Indigenous hunters.
MP Lori Idlout said she understands the intention behind the amendments to Bill C-21 when it comes to urban centers.
“People want to know that they are safe from gun violence. There is no reason for anyone to have a military-style gun in Montreal, downtown Toronto or any other urban centre. Large communities of Inuit have moved to these urban centres and they too want to know they are safe. There’s no good reason to have military-style assault weapons in communities, near schools and playgrounds. We need legislation that ensures the safety of all children.”
What concerns Idlout and the individuals she represents, is how the amendments might restrict the lifestyle and work of Nunavummiut, especially in secluded areas where predators are a threat.
“The Liberals introduced a last-minute amendment to their firearms bill without New Democrats’ knowledge. Many Indigenous people, Nunavummiut, hunters and farmers have raised concerns regarding the potential impact of these changes. I am taking these concerns very seriously,” said Idlout. “My party is taking these concerns very seriously. Rifles are not just for hunting, they ensure our safety from predatory animals, such as polar bears. There is still time to make this right and we will keep working to make sure any amendments to the bill will not ban guns primarily used for hunting and for the safety of Northerners.”
The Nunavut MP added that “we will not support any amendments that disrespect treaty rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples.”
Consultation lacking: McLeod
In the Northwest Territories, MP Michael McLeod, a member of the governing Liberals, said he has long supported his party’s effort to toughen gun laws since being elected in 2015 and pointed out that he likes some provisions of the current draft of Bill C-21. Aspects he approves of include red and yellow flag laws that would allow court-order prohibitions, handgun freezes, attention to illegal smuggling and trafficking and stiffer maximum penalties for gun crimes.
However, he said definitions need to be clearer around what constitutes “military-style assault weapons” and there needs to be a better understanding as to why there are some non-semi-automatic guns on the prohibition list.
He added that Public Safety Canada needs to better acknowledge common gun use in the North and should improve consultation with Northerners before a vote is held, particularly Indigenous people, as per Section 35 of the Constitution, the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples and specific self-governing agreements.
“There are aspects of (the bill) right now that are a bit blurry for me and a little bit concerning,” he said. “I don’t know what is being suggested when it comes to changing the definition of assault weapons.
“I have spoken to the minister in charge, (Public Safety Minister) Marco Mendicino, and I’ve indicated to him that he doesn’t have my full support until I really understand this and until I’m completely convinced (the bill) won’t affect hunters, sport shooters and trappers in the North.
“I have also indicated that I’m not satisfied that his people have done a good enough job to consult.”
McLeod admitted he has a personal interest in the issue as he has been a longtime collector of firearms, so he considers himself well versed in the need for specifics when placing prohibitions on guns.
“There are already some guns that are not semi-automatics that are on the list and we need to know why,” he said. “Most of them are because they exceed the 10,000 joule (projectile limit) but we are trying to scrub the list to make sure that nothing gets on that list that people are using for hunting in the North.”
Because of his experience and perspective, there can be “heated” debate within his own party, he said.
“A lot of times when we have discussions within caucus, I’m the one with the most guns and probably the one with the most knowledge about guns,” he said. “We have a large part of the MPs in caucus that… see guns from a city/urban standpoint and look at it through that lens. But there are lots from the rural or remote and northern parts of the country that look at guns and view it in a different light.
“We don’t see it as a weapon but we see it as a tool.”