The Tsilhqot’in First Nation are adding their voice to a growing chorus of critics of the Trudeau government’s new gun law, Bill C-21.
The bill, which has passed second reading, was initially aimed at handguns. The Trudeau government had already earlier banned 1,500 assault weapons in 2020, in the wake of a mass shooting in Nova Scotia in which a guman killed 22 people in April 2020.
Assault style firearms banned as of 2020 include the Ruger Mini-14 -- the rifle used by killer Marc Lepine, who murdered 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique 36 years ago today on December 6, 1989.
The Trudeau government had already announced a freeze on the purchase or transfer of handguns in Canada in October in advance of Bill C-21, which would amend the Criminal Code to add restrictions on certain weapons, increase jail time for weapons-related offences, and include provisions for revoking firearms licences.
But a late addition amendment by Liberal MP Paul Chiang – added after the bill had passed second reading – would effectively make certain types of long guns illegal as well.
The amendment adds semi-automatic rifles to the list of weapons that would become illegal in Canada. It would include some types of long guns used by hunters, according to the B.C. Wildlife Federation.
In a press release, Tsilhqot’in chief Chief Joe Alphonse said the bill would affect Tsilhqot'in hunters.
“We need answers,” he said. “Bill C-21 was supposed to be a bill that restricted hand guns and now it is targeting hunting rifles? Where was the consultation on this?
“Hunting is an Indigenous right protected under Section 35 of the Constitution. Limiting the type of guns we can use for hunting would severely limit in our ability to hunt.”
Alphonse added the Tsilhqot’in agree gun violence in Canada needs to be addressed.
“We applaud countries like New Zealand and Australia that have dramatically reduced gun violence through gun bans,” Alphonse said. “But any law must take into account the environment it exists in.
“We are hunters. Indigenous people rely on food from the land for food security and a hunting rifle is a tool to accomplish that. Canada needs to address these concerns before moving forward with Bill C-21 or it will be challenged.”
The new provision of Bill C-21 that has gun owners, especially hunters, up in arms deals with the number of bullets a gun is theoretically capable of holding in a magazine. It would apply to long guns capable of holding more than five shells, said Jesse Zeman, executive director for the BC Wildlife Federation.
“In Canada, we already have a restriction … that limits the number of bullets you can have,” Zeman said.
“There are a whole bunch of firearms that people own where they have magazines that are five bullets or less. But because those firearms were originally designed or capable to hold more than five bullets, they’re suddenly making them illegal.”
Zeman points to a recent Statistics Canada report on homicides that suggests gang violence is responsible for a considerable amount of homicides.
There were 788 homicides in Canada in 2021, according to the report, 40% of which were shooting deaths. Of the shooting deaths, 46% were identified as gang-related. Of the homicides involving guns, 57% involved handguns, 26% rifles and shotguns.
“Data between 2012 and 2017 indicate that almost three-quarters of homicides (73%) by shooting in rural areas were committed using a rifle or a shotgun,” the Statistics Canada report notes. “By comparison, 65% were committed using a handgun in urban areas.”
"For almost half (45%) of homicides in 2021 where a firearm was the primary weapon, and for which information was available, the weapon was classified as restricted."
The report also found that "90% of firearm-related homicides for which the information was available, the accused person did not possess a valid firearm licence for the classification of firearms used in the incident."
Zeman believes the amendment adding semi-automatic rifles to Canada’s list of restricted weapons had a lot to do with the Statistics Canada report on homicides.
“This amendment happened concurrently with a Statistics Canada report coming out showing that gun violence related to gangs and illegally smuggled in weapons has gone through the roof,” he said.
“So I think this is the Government of Canada trying to send a signal to the public that they’re going to take care of these issues through this legislation, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the guns that are being used in violent crimes are being used by gangsters, who don’t follow the rules, and they’re getting guns that are being smuggled in from the states, which are already illegal.”
According to CBC, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that the bill is being reviewed and gave assurances that the government is not "going after hunting rifles or shotguns."