Indigenous hunters detest the federal ban on semi-automatic rifles, according to testimony at the Senate national security committee.
Nunavut Tunngavik vice-president Paul Irngaut told senators Wednesday that hunters in northern Canada have vast hunting grounds compared to other parts of the country. Their search and rescue services are also less than optimal.
"Semi-automatic rifles are effective and necessary as a humane method to quickly dispatch animals, and as defence against polar bears, grizzly bears, and wolves," said Irngaut. Should semi-automatic rifles be censured, Inuit hunters would have insufficient time to reload their firearms.
As reported by the National Post, semi-automatic rifles automatically put a new cartridge into battery after each shot without manually reloading or re-cocking the firearm before firing again, like single-shot firearms. In contrast to fully automatic guns, semi-automatics only fire once per trigger pull.
Nunavut Tunngavik, Inc. (NTI) legally represents Inuit people in Nunavut and oversees agreements and treaties between their people and the Government of Canada, according to the publication.
"[We] are taught to prevent dangerous encounters and to scare away these predators, but this is not enough," added Irngaut. "It could mean life or death when one or more aggressive bears are breaking into your cabin or tent."
Irngaut conveyed two residents died a few years ago after being attacked by a polar bear. Another two teenagers escaped a near-death situation when they shot a bear that entered their tent, he said.
"If this bill is passed with the ban on semi-automatic firearms, we will have to shoot-to-kill, resulting in an increase of fatalities to wildlife," said Irngaut, who strongly advised the federal government not to pass the bill. "That’s the reality that we have up here."
Last December, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) passed an emergency resolution opposing Bill C-21, An Act to amend certain Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (firearms). Specifically, they opposed now-withdrawn amendments that posed outlawing hunting rifles commonly used by Indigenous hunters.
That resolution warned the federal government against infringing their traditional and treaty hunting rights by ensuring proper consultations with Indigenous groups, as identified by s.35 of the Constitution Act.
Mohawk Council of Kahnawàke Chief Jessica Lazare told the committee earlier this year that its current iteration remains a concern. “It offers no substantive protection of our rights, and may actually be harmful,” she told committee members.
"[To date] there has not been sufficient consultations on the bill," added Irngaut.
In January, Yukoners also voiced their opposition to a since-withdrawn ban on long guns, such as rifles and shotguns.
Fifteen Yukoners, including trappers and hunters, told then public safety minister Marco Mendicino they did not appreciate his attack on their livelihoods.
"I live 110 miles from the nearest city," said Indigenous hunter Lewis Wilson, who resides in rural Yukon with his partner. "There's only one way to get there: a plane or helicopter."
He told Mendicino that the amendments would take away the ability for people to defend themselves, referencing that a grizzly bear mauled a mother and her infant child at their trapping cabin in 2018.
"We take it very seriously," said Wilson. "My partner is 102 pounds. We have a 45-70 lever action rifle, but she can't use it. A semi-automatic rifle is the only one she can shoot that is strong enough [for her] to defend herself."
Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai added the legislation risked the livelihoods of all northern Canadians, from licensed and subsistence hunters to Indigenous families working traplines.
LeBlanc clarified November 8 that he did not want to “criminalize people” like hunters.
"I don’t think that Indigenous peoples were at large opposed to this bill, and I don’t think hunters or sports groups oppose this legislation," he testified before senators on October 23. The minister claimed his department largely addressed concerns on an “initial version” of Bill C-21.
Senate Opposition leader Don Plett accused him of peddling “disinformation” on the matter soon after his remarks.
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, Cabinet in a legal notice confirmed a “buyback” of prohibited firearms has been delayed until October 30, 2025, after the next general election. “We specifically extended the gun amnesty so as not to criminalize people,” Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in October 23 testimony at the Senate national security committee.
Bill C-21 is currently at the committee stage in the Senate ahead of third reading.