The federal government’s bill to reduce gun violence is being criticized after revelations that it would ban rifles and shotguns currently used by hunters across the country.
Bill C-21 was intended to target handguns. However, the Trudeau government introduced several amendments after the bill passed second reading last June, adding a new list of guns to be restricted.
The amendments target nearly any firearm with a magazine capacity above five cartridges, even if a particular gun was equipped with a legal magazine.
Other restrictions are on high-calibre rifles and ordinance, which is aimed at powerful military-style weapons. This would ban any gun capable of generating over 10,000 joules of energy or equipped with a muzzle greater than 20 millimetres.
However, critics say that these will target many firearms not just used by hunters, but also antiques, cannons used by historical roleplay groups, and collectibles.
Tony Bernardo of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association told CBC News that one gun on the blacklist is the Soviet-designed SKS semi-automatic rifle. He said estimates put the number of SKS rifles in circulation across Canada at over 500,000.
Though the rifle was not included in the original 2020 “assault rifle ban” because it was not a modern design, being originally designed in 1945, Ottawa included it after it was used in several mass shootings.
Bernardo said that because the gun was unrestricted, the government has no way of knowing who owns the rifle, which is particularly common with Indigenous and sustenance hunters. SKS owners could face prison sentences of up to 10 years.
“The consequences of this are absolutely huge and, quite frankly, totally uncalled for,” he said.
The Tŝilhqot’in National Government (TNG) questioned the newest amendments, underlining that hunting rifles are protected by the Indigenous right to hunt under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The TNG said that their hunters use rifles to hunt deer and moose in their territory.
“Hunting is an Indigenous right protected under Section 35 of the Constitution,” TNG Chief Joe Alphonse said in a statement. “Limiting the type of guns we can use for hunting would severely limit our ability to hunt. Gun violence needs to be addressed in Canada. We applaud countries like New Zealand and Australia that have dramatically reduced gun violence through gun bans – but any law must take into account the environment it exists in.”
After the initial uproar, including by hunting groups, and provincial and territorial leaders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the bill by stating, “We’re not going after hunting rifles or shotguns. We’re targeting the most dangerous weapons.”
Stanley Mianscum of the Mistissini Cree Trappers’ Association said that many hunters use weapons with magazines of up to eight cartridges. He is concerned that members could be criminalized if C-21 is passed into law.
Mianscum said he hadn’t yet heard directly from members, but that on social media many people were attacking the bill. If the government tries to seize guns used by hunters, Mianscum said it could “start a war.”
Reggie Bearskin of the Chisasibi Cree Trappers’ Association advised the government “not touch hunting guns, that’s what we have here.”