Ottawa drops firearms bill amendments after NWT meeting

Last modified: February 3, 2023 at 8:41am

The federal government has abandoned amendments to proposed firearms legislation that Indigenous groups and others had opposed.

Friday’s announcement came after federal public safety minister Marco Mendicino held a virtual meeting with Indigenous leaders in the Northwest Territories earlier this week.

With a committee examining Bill C-21 set to reconvene, Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed said amendments introduced late last year would be withdrawn.


Ontario MP Paul Chiang’s introduction of those amendments, which added various weapons to a list of firearms to be banned, were a surprise to many with an interest in guns – including NWT Liberal MP Michael McLeod.

The amendments had the stated aim of keeping the population safe from mass shootings and gun violence, Ottawa has said, but Indigenous leaders said the proposals infringed on hunting rights. The Assembly of First Nations told northern Indigenous leaders it would oppose C-21.

On Friday, the federal government withdrew a lengthy list of long guns that would have been banned and an amendment targeting rifles or shotguns that can accept a magazine with more than five rounds.

Speaking to Cabin Radio on Thursday, McLeod said he had been “disturbed” by those amendments when they surfaced in December.

“I paid a lot of attention to this bill. As the minister ate lunch, ate supper, took a break, I would be there pestering him, making sure he was aware that there were other things besides outright banning guns that could be done,” McLeod said.


“I was pretty surprised to hear the list of amendments brought forward to the committee. It’s upsetting to me that it was done without my consultation.”

McLeod said this week’s meeting with Mendicino – which followed a similar meeting with Yukon leaders – involved representatives of the Dehcho First Nations, Tłı̨chǫ Government, NWT Métis Nation, North Slave Métis Alliance and Gwich’in Tribal Council.

“They wanted to ensure the government knew they have constitutionally protected rights and their harvesting rights are protected, in some cases under land claim agreements,” McLeod said.

“They wanted to make sure the minister knew that life in the NWT is not the same as in the south. We’re not in the cities and a lot of times, we need guns to protect us from wild animals while we’re on the land.”


Equally, the MP added, “leaders were pretty clear that they recognized that the government has to do certain things to make sure communities are safe, and they wanted communities to be safe. Gun safety is part of it. Every Indigenous government on the meeting indicated that.”

McLeod himself says Bill C-21 includes many important elements related to the likes of handguns – for example, he said, the idea of “red-flagging people of concern” when selling weapons – but he wanted “to see something that’s not going to be forcing people to give up a bunch of guns.”

He noted that unlike many MPs, he has considerable experience with firearms.

“I grew up with guns. I’ve always had guns around me, I’ve been handling guns since I was a toddler. I was taught gun safety by my parents and my family,” McLeod said.

“I collect guns, I have working guns. I have probably about 14 guns in my own possession. I’m not a gunsmith, I’m not an expert on any part of it, but I have a lot of knowledge – as most people in the North do.”

‘There is a difference’

Despite the amendments being dropped, both McLeod and Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian stressed the difference between some of the weapons being contemplated for prohibition and the weapons ordinarily used in the North.

“Semi-automatic shotguns and semi-automatic rifles – I think there are people that use those, but I don’t know if they need them to hunt,” McLeod said.

“Personally, I’ve never seen a semi-automatic shotgun with a clip. Those are new. I think they came out around 2016, 2018. Semi-automatic rifles with clips, those have been around for a while. I have some, but they are not hunting guns.

“There is a difference between sporting guns, hunting guns and working guns.”

Norwegian said on Thursday: “These automatics, these bazookas, it’s crazy. Why would anybody want to go hunt a caribou and mount a 50-caliber on a tripod?

“There’s no need for us to have these kinds of things. We’ll stick to our single shots, our .30-30s.”

But he emphasized that federal legislation could not jeopardize harvesters’ safety in pursuit of outlawing the largest, most dangerous weapons.

“People take meticulous care of their rifles. They didn’t like anybody tampering with that because it was a way of life. It would be like taking away protection, a tool, like going to a farmer and taking away their pitchfork or shovel,” Norwegian said.

For him, this week’s meeting was “all about making sure that the harvesters, their rights are taken care of. We’re out there and we’re trying to be as safe as possible.”

“The government seems to have taken the approach that we’re all criminals and that all these weapons need to be controlled one way or another,” he said.

“My point was that they were targeting the wrong group of people. They should be targeting the guys that bring illegal weapons into Canada.”

Caitrin Pilkington contributed reporting.