Willard Hagen flew bush planes in Canada’s far north for 30 years, negotiated one of Northwest Territory’s largest Indigenous land claims, and even tangled with the RCMP over some improperly stored and unregistered firearms back in 2005.
“[Police] were looking for a lost trapper so I let them use my cabin about 60 miles out of town, had a bunch of guns there and they grabbed them,” Hagen recalls. “They ended up dropping all the charges, but it was pretty ridiculous.”
After Ottawa’s ban on nearly 1,500 models of “assault-style” weapons announced on May 1, the former Gwich’in Tribal Council president told The Epoch Times that he won’t be giving up his guns and hasn’t renewed his gun licence since 2005 when police seized his firearms.
He also says the “Aboriginal hunter” exemption included in the new measures is divisive.
“It just creates another rift,” Hagen said of special treatment allotted for Indigenous hunters that could have saved him some trouble 15 years ago.
“Gun owners are pretty passionate people, and if they see themselves treated as second-class gun owners, this just causes more problems, more racism, and everything else.”
While Aboriginal rights under section 35 of the Constitution have afforded Indigenous hunters greater access to fish and game than non-Indigenous in certain regions and times of the year, this is the first time for weapons to be regulated in the same manner.
Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would be outlawing a smorgasbord of weapons beginning May 1, providing a two-year amnesty for owners to comply, there has been pushback from the gun lobby, hunters, and firearms-owners in rural areas.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner sponsored a petition against what she called the government’s “undemocratic” seizure of “legally-owned” firearms that in fewer than 24 hours garnered more than 80,000 signatures.
And on May 6, the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights announced it is launching legal action over the government’s move, calling it “an unprecedented attack on the freedom and liberty of Canadian sport shooters and hunters.”
But there are many on the other side of the debate who applaud the new measures.
Irvin Waller, University of Ottawa professor emeritus of criminology and victims’ rights advocate, expressed support for the gun ban and believes it will mitigate chances of future mass shootings.
“It really will avoid having a Christchurch [New Zealand March 2019 mass shooting]-type incident in Canada. In the Quebec mass shooting, [Bissonnette] had some sort of automatic gun and it jammed so I think we’re very lucky not to have more victims. …It also will reduce the risk of us getting the sort of mass shootings that happen In the United States,” Waller said.
Student and women’s groups like Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) also supported the move.
“These guns were used in mass murders in which women were often the target, so it’s a very important step forward,” Nathalie Provost, a member of CFOJA who survived being shot four times during 1989’s École Polytechnique massacre of 14 female students, told CBC.
According to Department of Justice estimates from 2015, there are more than three million gun owners in Canada—handguns and long guns—and that 25 percent of households possess one or more firearms.
Waller is author of two books, including “Science and Secrets of Ending Violent Crime,” on how policy makers and grassroots organizations can address crime reduction. He says broader strategies can be effective in reducing gun violence.
“Having a planned strategy where the police use what’s called focused deterrence, [like] what Glasgow did, basically clamping down on the people they believe to be carrying guns and pushing them to services that are well known to work,” he said.
“In the U.K. they’re called youth inclusion centres. Montreal has some of these, where our street workers use outreach to establish confidence with the people in street gangs and they get them to avoid fights and revenge killings, and they get them to go back and finish school to get job training.”
Daniel Fritter is publisher of Calibre: The Canadian Firearm Magazine, a niche magazine with 40,000 subscribers and a large clientele of domestic gun enthusiasts and manufacturers—both in possession of valuable property that the government has suddenly rendered virtually worthless.
On top of a $6-$8 billion price tag he expects any purported buy-back campaign to cost, the negative impact across the industry—sport shooting clubs, retailers, hunting sector, even his magazine and “distributors who basically have $350,000 in merchandise just parked now”—will be considerable, he said.
Fritter said some of the guns on Trudeau’s banned list make little sense.
“The jewel in it was to get rid of all the .50 BMG rifles, but it also includes the .460 Weatherby Magnum, which is just a big game hunting cartridge,” he said, noting that fully automatic machine-gun weapons restricted to police and military use are already illegal.
“So when they say this is an assault weapons ban, there are items like a $100,000 handmade, break action, double-barrel rifle that looks like what you’d expect Teddy Roosevelt to have hunted with. That’s now a prohibited weapon.”
Single-shot bolt action guns that use these cartridges along with modern 10- or 12-gauge shotguns with similarly sized bores are also banned, according to Fritter.
While Public Safety Minister Bill Blair denied the new rules outlawed 10- and 12-gauges, Fritter broke down the new restrictions as he understood them.
“There are two categories of firearms they have banned: everything with a bore over 20 millimetres, everything that produces more than 10,000 joules of energy,” he explained.
“Everything else is prohibited is by name. It’s AR-15 variants, so everything known as AR-15, or a variant thereof, is banned. It’s also the M-14 rifle and all variants thereof. It’s kind of like banning the Honda Civic and all variants of Honda Civics, but if you have a Toyota Corolla, you’re fine.”
As a journalist who writes about guns and associated recreational pursuits and published a magazine on the subject for the past six years, Fritter said the new regulations would impact millions of Canadians and rendering much if not all of their property worthless.
“The issue of whether or not it’s going to be effective in public safety is obviously pretty controversial. I have my opinions on it, just based on the fact that getting a gun legally in Canada is the most difficult way to do it,” he said.
“And it’s borne out by the crime statistics; the majority of gun crimes is committed with illegal guns because it’s more difficult to get one legally, so to a degree it’s very confusing because I can’t think of another situation where an order-in-council had such a dramatic impact on so many people.”
After winning a majority government in 2011, Conservatives repealed the federal gun registry introduced by Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien back in 1993.
Former RCMP officer Ryan Leef was a one-term Conservative MP for Yukon who rode then-PM Stephen Harper’s election promise to repeal the long-gun registry into the House of Commons in 2011.
Leef now works Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures, organizing and guiding sport hunts in the territory.
He said it’s early days to predict how big the fallout from the new measures will be on the sport hunting and gun trade, before giving his perspective on the differences between then and now.
“The difference we face today is there’s a lot of the Canadian public that believes assault and military military-style rifles should be banned, and also believe that’s actually what Justin [Trudeau] did—the difficulty from, an election point of view, is how do you get the public to understand that’s not what he did.”
Hagen says it’s the people who live in the bush or in proximity to wild animals who should be able to choose which guns they need to protect themselves, not the government.
“People still live on the land, people still travel by canoe, they’re snowshoeing, snowmobiling whatever, and they’re the ones who know what rifle is going to work for them to keep them alive.”
Correction: The headline of this article has been changed to reflect where the gun owner is from. He is in fact from the Northwest Territories (NWT). The Epoch Times regrets the error.