First Nations Chief Says Indigenous Hunters 'Very Fearful' of Potential for Bill C-21 to Confiscate Firearms

First Nations Chief Says Indigenous Hunters 'Very Fearful' of Potential for Bill C-21 to Confiscate Firearms
Customers shop for firearms in the McBride Guns Inc. store in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 25, 2023. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Matthew Horwood
Indigenous hunters and trappers are worried that Ottawa’s gun bill will infringe on their ancestral hunting rights, says the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association's executive director.
“A lot of our communities are very fearful or insistent that the legislation doesn't infringe on their inherent rights to hunt and harvest animals for food," Edward Lennard Busch told the Standing Committee on National Security, Defence, and Veterans Affairs.

"But at the same time, I think there are aspects of this legislation and other laws that would make our communities safer."

Senators on the committee are currently studying Bill C-21, "An Act to amend certain Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (firearms)," after it passed the House of Commons in the spring of 2022.

The bill aims to create an evergreen definition to ban firearms that discharge centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner, and which are designed to hold a magazine of six or more cartridges. The definition would only apply to firearms manufactured after the bill comes into force, and will not impact current owners of these types of firearms.
The bill also aims to implement red flag provisions to allow anyone to make an application in provincial court to prevent someone from possessing firearms and other weapons “if the person believes on reasonable grounds that it is not desirable in the interests of the safety of the person against whom the order is sought.”

Amendment Targeting Hunting Rifles

In February, the Liberal government walked back a previous version of the bill that would have added hundreds of rifles to the prohibited list, many of which are used for hunting. The amendment to Bill C-21, added in November 2022 by Liberal MP Paul Chiang, would have banned any rifle or shotgun that could potentially accept a magazine with more than five rounds, guns that could generate more than 10,000 joules of energy or had muzzles wider than 20 millimetres, and semi-automatic firearms without detachable magazines that don't meet the definition of "assault-style firearms."

Conservative and NDP MPs united in opposition to the bill, with Conservative MP Raquel Dancho calling it "an attack on hunters," and NDP MP Charlie Angus saying the amendment "came out of nowhere." Indigenous groups like the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations also opposed the bill's amendments, and the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution condemning the legislation for potentially infringing on First Nations and treaty rights to hunt and harvest.

After walking back the amendments, then-Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said they had heard the concerns about hunting firearms "loud and clear" and that the Liberals had not intended to punish rural Canadians, hunters, or indigenous peoples with the legislation.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, meanwhile, said the Liberals had been forced into a "temporary and humiliating climb down," but warned that the party would try to ban hunting rifles again in the future. "God forbid if he ever got a majority [government] he'd ram it through," Mr. Poilievre said of the legislation and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Police Witnesses Support Bill C-21

Witnesses before the Senate committee were generally supportive of Bill C-21, telling senators that the legislation would assist the police force's ability to respond to domestic violence incidents and stop 3D-printed "ghost guns."

Bill Fordy, deputy chief of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACFP), said the organization supported the bill in principle and believed the law would introduce "essential provisions to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act."

Mr. Fordy said the CACFP is in favour of the bill's provision aimed at addressing privately-made "ghost guns," clarifying language around "largely unregulated" replica firearms, and strengthening Red Flag Laws that would reduce access to firearms by those who pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.

Didier Deramond, director general of the Quebec Association of Police Chiefs, said they also supported the changes in the legislation involving ghost guns and high-capacity magazines. But he highlighted to the committee a current loophole that allows those with a Possession and Acquisition license to purchase any quantity of ammunition, even for weapons they don't own.

"An individual can buy ammunition calibre for weapons that they don't even possess, and it's in any quantity they want, and that does not constitute an offence. You'll agree that this a major issue given the increase in illegal firearms and the homemade 3D and ghost gun weapons across Quebec," Mr. Deramond said.

He said a correlation should be established between firearms and ammunition possessed, and that manufacturers should be forced to put serial numbers across all firearms in order to facilitate traceability. Mr. Deramond also highlighted that Bill C-5, which removed minimum mandatory sentences in some offences, "seems to fly in the face of the current legislation."