Yukon gun owners told Canada’s Public Safety minister last Thursday that the federal government’s gun control bill goes too far.
Bill C-21 proposes a ban on more than 1,500 firearms.
The focus is on handguns – the sale, purchase and transfer of which were frozen nationally in October 2022 – but amendments proposed in
December meant a number of long guns could be included in a ban.
This drew criticism from Yukoners who say the ban would take away rifles and shotguns northerners use for hunting, sport and protection from wildlife.
Yukon MP Brendan Hanley said in December he couldn’t support those amendments.
He joined Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino at a roundtable held early Thursday evening in Whitehorse.
A variety of gun owners from around the territory had their chance to ask questions about the bill and say exactly how they feel about it. They included trappers, sport shooters, collectors and hunters.
“Before getting into the details of (the gun policy), I want to say a few words about my respect for you, and for others, who are responsible gun owners; be you hunters, farmers, collectors, trappers, you name it,” Mendicino told gun owners.
“I think far too often, there’s a stigma or stereotype that we don’t value that relationship, and that is simply not true. We do. And that’s why I’m
here. It’s to establish a dialogue with you.”
Mendicino was in Whitehorse on Hanley’s invitation, to talk with Yukoners about Bill C-21 and learn more about the role of guns in rural
The bill is currently under consideration by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, awaiting a third and final reading.
Mendicino said he wants to create “policy that seeks to reduce gun violence or eradicate it if at all possible, but also in a way that reflects your
He said he came to the Yukon “to see what it means to not only use a firearm, but to need it in some cases, given the realities of what it means to live up in the Yukon, and elsewhere in North.”
More than a dozen gun owners shared those realities with Mendicino.
Backgrounds and opinions ranged, but all speakers voiced a general opposition to the proposed gun ban.
“I don’t see how that ban is going to make Canada safer,” gun owner Bill Klassen told the minister.
Klassen, a former RCMP officer and Yukon government senior bureaucrat, said a number of guns included in the proposed ban are only used at ranges, not in street crime. He said he won’t be able to pass guns he’s collected on to his children.
Klassen said he disagrees so strongly with the bill as it stands that he would hold onto his Parker shotgun, Weatherby rifle and Ruger as an act of civil disobedience should the proposals pass into law.
“I’ve obeyed the law. I’ve enforced the laws as a former deputy minister at the Yukon government. And I recognize a bad law when I see it,” Klassen said. (See full remarks, p. 7.)
A number of speakers also said they wouldn’t be able to pass on guns to their family members, or sell guns they’d collected as investments, should they be banned.
“There’s many guys out there that have large amounts of money invested in their handgun collections,” said gun owner Donavon Dewis, who runs the publication Canadian Access to Firearms.
He told the roundtable some handgun collections which could become illegal to own are worth tens of thousands of dollars.
He asked if the government would provide adequate compensation for these collections.
Dewis said the government should trust responsible gun owners, as criminal gun owners will continue to break the law even after the ban.
“If you trust us, then you wouldn’t be doing a handgun freeze,” he said.
“You wouldn’t be taking away my firearms is what you wouldn’t be doing. It is very simple. That illegal guy is the problem. Not the legal guy.”
Lewis Wilson agreed.
“Taking guns out of legal gun owners’ hands can’t be about solving gun crime because legal gun owners don’t commit very much gun crime,”
“I’m an Indigenous trapper. I live 110 miles from the nearest city. The only way to get there’s airplane or helicopter,” he said.
“We take it very seriously when a hospital isn’t there, when a conservation officer isn’t there, when an RCMP officer isn’t there to help. We have to have these firearms.”
He said his partner weighs 102 pounds, and a semi-automatic rifle is the only firearm she’s strong enough to handle that has enough power to defend against a grizzly bear.
Wilson also said he’d spent thousands of dollars upgrading a 450 Bushmaster for protection against bears, and he’s worried he’ll never get
that money back if that gun is made illegal.
One gun owner, who couldn’t be identified, said his 13-year-old daughter’s dream is to become an Olympic target shooter.
He said he likely won’t be able to pass on his guns to her under the proposed legislation, nor would she be able to practise.
“It broke my heart to watch her come to the realization that she probably will never realize that dream,” the man said.
“In one stroke, we’re destroying the ability of our young folk to get into a sport that has defined Canadian tradition.”
A man who identified himself only as Victor said he’d lost a cousin to handgun violence and his uncle to a hunting accident.
He said he understands the dangers of gun ownership, but doesn’t think such a large-scale ban is appropriate.
“I’m a shooter. I’m a hunter. I don’t think the irresponsibility of those people and the lack of mental health care available to those people should affect me and my children’s ability to enjoy the sport,” he said.
Hanley ended the roundtable thanking gun owners for their comments, saying the ultimate goal is addressing gun violence, not targeting
responsible gun owners.
Mendicino said money is being spent on international border enforcement and law enforcement to crack down on illegal sales and transfers, but gun crime prevention can’t stop at enforcement.
He said he will take the issues raised back to Ottawa, and the bill will be worked on and adapted before its third and final reading in the House of Commons.
No gun owner supported the bill, with many saying it’s fundamentally wrong in its approach to gun safety, but conversations were civil
Mendicino met with a number of Yukon groups about gun ownership last week, aside from Thursday’s roundtable. He left the territory Friday