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NWT MP says Bill C-21 must not impede rights of Northern hunters

The federal government’s proposed legislation that aims in part to prohibit hundreds of previously legal firearms may be called for a final vote as soon as this month, but NWT MP Michael McLeod says he is not yet satisfied with the bill in its current form.
“There are aspects of (the bill) right now that are a bit blurry for me and a little bit concerning,” says Northwest Territories Member of Parliament Michael McLeod. NNSL file photo

The federal government’s proposed legislation that aims in part to prohibit hundreds of previously legal firearms may be called for a final vote as soon as this month, but NWT MP Michael McLeod says he is not yet satisfied with the bill in its current form.

McLeod, a member of the governing Liberal party, 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.”

‘Heated debate’

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.”

Raquel Dancho, Conservative MP and vice-chair of the House of Commons public safety and national security committee that has been examining the bill, said her party has been opposed to the bill from the beginning. However, her opposition became stronger in recent weeks as the government attempted during clause-by-clause reading in committee to add non-restricted hunting rifles among those proposed to be prohibited and to redefine a ‘military assault rifle’ with any semi-automatic gun with the capacity to carry a magazine.

She has called the move “the largest assault on hunters in Canada” and has charged that the federal government is going after “Grandpa Joe’s hunting rifle instead of gangsters in Toronto.”

“The problem with that of course is that (the proposed bill) encapsulates hundreds and hundreds of models of common firearms and shotguns used for duck hunting or farming,” she said.

“Trudeau has been consistent in saying that he will never come for hunters and now they are.

“If this legislation stands, it leaves a backdoor open that any listed hunting rifle can be banned with the stroke of a pen.”

‘Hammered’ with emails

Dancho said that having a voice from provincial or territorial leadership against the legislation — as Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have done — could make a difference in presenting a stance against the bill.

“I would also empower every voter who would like to see hunting remain in Canada to reach out to the Liberal MP ASAP,” she said. “MPs are currently getting hammered with thousands of emails on this.”

For his part, McLeod said he has received both support and opposition to the bill and that he situates himself somewhere in the middle.

Scott Cairns, past president of the Yellowknife Shooting Club, said he’s concerned that the bill amendments will likely lead to many club members owning prohibited guns due to the popular use of non-restricted, semi-automatic guns. Often these firearms are beneficial to hunters wanting to get shots off quickly when ducks or geese come into sight or when trying to quickly take down larger game like deer or caribou.

“Because of the type of gun, the semi-automatic and the fact that they are extra popular among users makes this a very sweeping prohibition,” he explained.

“What the federal government is now saying with this law is that they are taking firearms that were bought over the counter for normal use and by the stroke of a pen saying that you are not allowed to sell, use or trade away. It is not acceptable to me and should not be acceptable to anyone.”

Possession acquisition licence

Cairns said that legal firearm owners already go through a rigorous and invasive procedure to be able to possess in the first place, which is among the opposition by gun owners regarding the proposed bill.

To legally own a gun in the Northwest Territories, one must seek out a Possession acquisition licence (PAL) by first paying a $300 fee and then taking a Canada Firearm Safety course led by a credible instructor.

Once passing the course, one must fill out a five-page application form to send to the RCMP.

Before a permit can be issued, the RCMP thoroughly researches an applicant’s history, which can include marital and mental health history and criminal record backgrounds.

After contact with references, a non-restricted firearm licence may then be issued.

GNWT Department of Justice spokesperson Ngan Trinh said this week that the territorial government is reviewing recent amendments to the bill but admitted that questions remain surrounding the proposed legislation, including on how proposed buyback program would work.

“Community safety and crime reduction is a shared responsibility with the federal government and we will work with our partners including Public Safety Canada and the RCMP to assess any implications from the ban,” Trinh said.

Messages for this story were left with Justice Minister R.J. Simpson and cabinet as well as the Northwest Territories RCMP on Dec. 1. They did not respond by press deadline.

—By Simon Whitehouse, Northern News Services