Some northerners are criticizing proposed changes to a bill intended to address gun violence in Canada, saying they are confusing and could negatively affect hunters.
The Liberal government proposed an amendment to strengthen Bill C-21 late last month that would enshrine the definition of a prohibited “assault-style” firearm in law, alongside a list of guns it said should be banned.
While some have praised the move, critics argue it could affect several rifles and shotguns primarily used for hunting and sport.
“That is a bit worrying because it seems to be a lot of creep in the scope of the bill, which doesn’t seem to have been the original intent of it,” said Jonathan Rocheleau, president of the Yellowknife Shooting Club.
Rocheleau noted he supports sections of the bill that aim to increase protection for victims of domestic violence. He said he’d like to see more rationale for the amendment and for some of the firearm models listed.
Jimmy Kalinek, an Inuvialuit hunter in Inuvik, N.W.T., said he feels the proposed changes are “an overreach from the government.”
“My first thought was that’s just ridiculous,” he said.
“A gun is just a gun. It takes a person to use it for violence, to kill people.”
Kalinek said he was raised to harvest on the land, something he is passing on to his children and others. He added that hunting is important in the North as the costs of groceries and supplies are high.
The federal government should take a serious look at what guns are restricted, Kalinek said, and ensure that Indigenous people are at the table when making those decisions.
Jared Gonet, who is a citizen of the Taiku River Tlinget First Nation and lives in Whitehorse, said the proposed amendment has created a lot of confusion and there hasn’t been proper consultation.
“I think it’ll probably lead to more potential culture clash, if anything,” he said. “My big worry is that First Nations specifically … will feel a bit more nervous about going out and hunting, connecting with their culture.”
Gonet said that while he does not support banning hunting rifles, he does support prohibitions on handguns and assault-style weapons.
The federal government in May 2020 banned more than 1,500 “assault-style” firearms. In October, it introduced a national freeze on handguns.
Bill C-21 is currently being reviewed by members of Parliament.
Lori Idlout, the NDP member of Parliament for Nunavut, said in a statement that she supports legislation that ensures people are safe from gun violence, adding there’s no reason to have a “military-style gun” in urban centres, communities, or near schools and playgrounds.
She said, however, that the new amendment was introduced at the “last minute” and she’s taking concerns about its potential effects seriously.
“Rifles are not just for hunting, they ensure our safety from predatory animals, such as polar bears,” she said.
“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. We will not support any amendments that disrespect treaty rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples.”
Liberal N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod said he’s happy about many sections of the bill, but there is some confusion due to a lack of consultation.
“I really would like to see us take some time and revisit what’s in the bill,” he said. “We need to come back with a good plan, a clear plan that people can clearly understand.”
Liberal Yukon MP Brendan Hanley said hunters, Indigenous leaders and outfitters have reached out to share concerns about the proposed amendment.
“I’m working with my rural colleagues, I’m working with my fellow MPs on this and the minister and his staff, and I’m confident that we can make some progress.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a news conference earlier this week that the bill is being reviewed to ensure it does not capture firearms primarily used for hunting, but targets “the most dangerous weapons.”
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.