First Nations leaders reject Trudeau’s proposed gun law, citing risk to treaty rights

Some First Nations leaders say they're concerned to see rifles used for hunting on the list

By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa

Chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations voted Thursday to publicly oppose the Liberal government’s proposed gun-control legislation and stand against sovereignty bills in Alberta and Saskatchewan’s legislatures. 

All three bills would infringe on treaty rights, the Indigenous leaders said. 

An amendment to Bill C-21, which is currently being debated by members of Parliament, aims to create an evergreen definition for “assault-style” weapons and enshrine it in law, allowing the government to ban hundreds of models of firearms.

Some First Nations leaders say they’re concerned to see rifles used for hunting on the list and voted to take a stand against the bill, which they say infringes on their treaty rights.

“We totally oppose this bill,” Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg told the gathering. 

He says these guns are a “tool,” not a weapon. 

The AFN, a national advocacy organization representing more than 600 First Nations across the country, had previously raised concerns about the legislation’s potential effects on hunting rights at a meeting of the House of Commons committee that is studying the bill. 

On Thursday, chiefs carried an emergency resolution that was brought to the floor with unanimous support at their special assembly. It called on the AFN to push the government to make changes to the bill, including ensuring that long guns used by First Nations hunters do not fall under the ban, and improve its consultations with affected groups.

Chiefs also voted in favour of supporting First Nations in Saskatchewan in their opposition to the Saskatchewan First Act tabled by Saskatchewan Party Premier Scott Moe. 

And the assembly affirmed that Indigenous leaders in Alberta could count on its support in their fight against the province’s own Sovereignty Act, introduced last week by United Conservative Party Premier Danielle Smith. 

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who spoke at the event on Thursday, told reporters that he respects the AFN’s right to voice concerns with the legislation. He said debates on gun control can be emotional. 

Earlier, in his address to the crowd, he noted that Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by gun violence. 

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who also addressed chiefs earlier in the day, told them he shares their concerns about the legislation’s effect on treaty rights.

“Any amendment that in any way contravenes your treaty rights is an amendment that we will not support,” Singh said. 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who is one of the most vocal critics of the bill and the amendment, didn’t appear in person to deliver his first message to the chiefs as party leader. His office said he was out of town.

Instead, Poilievre provided a short video, in which he spoke about his support for helping nations achieve economic reconciliation. It was played before chiefs were set to debate a set of resolutions regarding residential school survivors.

After the video ended, a few boos could be heard from the audience. Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod walked to a microphone in the room and pleaded with organizers to “not ever again put a video like that ahead of our residential school survivors,” which earned applause from the crowd. 

Banner image: Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief, RoseAnne Archibald, speaks during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.