Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he’s learned a lot from talks with Yukon gun owners last week, and it’ll be affecting the shape of a federal bill on gun control that some Yukoners have criticized for ignoring northern ways of life.
Bill C-21 proposes, among other things, a ban on more than 1,500 firearms country-wide.
Recent amendments to the bill, which originally focused on handguns, could make long guns used in hunting and sport here in the Yukon illegal.
Mendicino visited the territory last week to respond to concerns over the ban, and learn how firearms are used in northern communities.
He said he met with the Canadian Rangers, Yukon Fishing and Game Association, local government, Council of Yukon First Nations leaders and a variety of gun owners at a roundtable meeting last Thursday, all to discuss how Bill C-21 could impact life and industry here.
“Getting out on the land,” Mendicino said in an interview Friday afternoon, “I was able to experience, along with members of the community, how firearms are used safely and responsibly.”
Mendicino acknowledged firearms are a part of the “fabric” of northern life. “And I was able to experience that first hand,” he said.
“It’s my commitment to take that perspective and work it into the ongoing study of Bill C-21,” he said.
The bill is currently under committee review and awaiting a third reading in the House of Commons.
An amendment to the bill introduced late last year went beyond a handgun ban to include long guns like rifles and shotguns.
Fears that this amendment could make firearms used to hunt and protect against wildlife in remote northern communities led Yukon MP Brendan Hanley to say he couldn’t support his own party’s bill in its current form.
“We’ve been able to clarify that there is space in which we can create exemptions that are aligned and respectful to the northern realities on the land and to have an important conversation with First Nations because this bill is going to be passed in a way that is consistent with the principles of reconciliation,” Mendicino said.
He said he and Hanley had made good progress.
Hanley told the Star Friday he’s been assured First Nations rights for hunting won’t be affected by the ban.
He said Mendicino also committed to protecting fundamental hunting rights for all Canadians. Gun ban exemptions for sport, hunting and collecting are on the table, Hanley said.
“I’m very happy that the minister found the time and he responded to my request to come here,” Hanley said, saying the Yukon’s voice was heard and he’s confident it will find its way into a revised bill later this month. “But it’s not the end of the conversation.”
Speaking of exemptions, Mendicino said identifying guns important to Yukon industries and communities and seeing if they can be removed from a ban list in some way is a big part of the work that will come from last week’s meetings.
“We’re gonna work very closely with hunters, trappers, First Nations, to scope that work out,” he told the Star.
“The ability to use firearms safely and responsibly for food security, for self-protection and preservation, while in the land are all things that we can accomplish, while at the same time trying to reduce gun violence.”
Mendicino noted that a gun ban isn’t the only measure being taken to reduce gun violence.
He said the government is spending $450 million at the Canadian border to prevent illegal sales and smuggling.
He also noted nearly $1 million in federal funding going to Whitehorse for community programs to prevent youth from getting involved in crime.
Increased mental health care, he said, is another part of the federal government’s approach to gun crime prevention.
Mendicino said he doesn’t expect to come back with a revised bill that gun owners will totally agree with, but he hopes to change it so northern ways of life are protected without sacrificing public safety.