Thank you for inviting me here today.
Mr. Chair and members of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, it is an honour to be here today to speak as a witness before the committee in support of Bill C-391. It is my understanding that I am the first aboriginal person to come before this committee, which is very disappointing.
Mr. Chair, there has been a long history of opposition to the long-gun registry in the Yukon, and indeed across the entire north, ever since the introduction of the registry in 1993. The registry was set out in Bill C-68, an act respecting firearms and other weapons. This bill was given royal assent in 1995.
I want to read into the record a motion presented to the Yukon Legislative Assembly on December 14, 1994, by the late Johnny Abel, the former MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin. The motion read as follows:
That it is the opinion of this House that the proposed amendments to the federal government's firearms legislation to be presented to the Parliament of Canada in February, 1995, do not accommodate the needs of northern Canadians and their lifestyle; and
That the Yukon Legislative Assembly urges the federal Minister of Justice, the Hon. Allan Rock, not to proceed with the proposed firearms amendments until such time as the needs of northern Canadians are met.
The motion passed unanimously. The words of Mr. Abel at that time are still relevant today. He said:
The people in Toronto do not go ratting, nor do they need to hunt caribou like the people of Old Crow do. When they want food, they just go down to the nearest grocery store. The grocery store for the people of Old Crow is the land itself, our traditional territory: Old Crow Flats.
To my constituents, a firearm is a tool. We need a rifle to hunt and to live off the land. A carpenter needs tools, such as a hammer and a saw, to do his or her job. A mechanic needs tools, such as wrenches and screwdrivers, to do his or her job.
My constituents are hunters. We need to use firearms to do our job.
Mr. Chair, over the years since MLA Johnny Abel's motion in 1994, other motions have been presented in the Yukon Legislative Assembly opposing the long-gun registry, but all to no avail. The Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut--Canada's entire north--are unified in their position in calling for the revocation of the long-gun registry. As I speak here today, the three northern premiers are meeting in Whitehorse, and I am sure that the revocation of the long-gun registry will be a topic of their discussion.
Mr. Chair, I stand before you today to speak on behalf of Yukoners to ensure that the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry comes to an end. The registry forces law-abiding citizens to register their tools, which are used in many cases to fulfill their responsibilities in their everyday lives. The registry targets people who live off the land—first nation citizens, ranchers, farmers, hunters, and outfitters—not the intended criminals. Registration is only for those who respect the law. People who plan to commit a crime using a weapon will not register the gun.
The legislation that created the registry hoped to reduce violent crime. Usually handguns and other smuggled firearms are used in organized crime and drug deals, not hunting rifles. Domestic violence and violence against women is a problem in our society. Registering hunting rifles, unfortunately, will not change this dysfunction. Most violence against women is usually as a result of physical force.
In Canada, most murders are committed with a sharp-edged weapon. In 2008, a knife was used against 6% of all victims of violent crime. In comparison, 3% of violent crimes were committed with a blunt club or blunt instrument, and 2% with a firearm. These data are from a Statistics Canada article, “Knives and violent crime in Canada, 2008”.
I'm here to talk to you today about life in Canada's north and how long guns are a part of everyday life for many Yukoners. In rural Yukon, carrying a rifle may be the only defence against attack from many predators. The rifle is a tool to be used by rural citizens to safeguard their lives when going about supporting their families, prospecting, fishing, and gathering other food sources. To many Yukoners, a rifle is a means to feed their children, elders, and, in some cases, their community.
For some, registration and the cost involved with registration will cause hardship. These law-abiding citizens have had these rifles safely for all of their lives.
I would now like to share with you some of my experience with long-gun life in the Yukon Territory.
I was taught the value of a rifle at a very young age, whether it was a .22 calibre or a .30-06. I was taught how to respect a gun and honour it. I shot rabbits and grouse at age 9, and I shot my first moose at the age of 13.
Mr. Chair, first nations people have been under the thumb of federal governments for hundreds of years--only first nations. What other race of people are subject to an act like the Indian Act?
We are guaranteed inherent rights to hunt and put food on our tables to feed our families. Would one believe this registry system has diminished those rights? As a first nations elder, I believe it will and it has. It will be hard for first nations persons to own a gun. I know of one elder in Teslin, Yukon who had his rifle taken away, and it took two years of court cases to get it back. It was taken away because it wasn't registered. That's unbelievable. What's next?
Mr. Chair, this long-gun registry even affects our traditional ceremonies in a negative way. For example, when someone passes away we have a headstone potlatch one year after, and in this ceremony we give gifts to members of the opposite clan. The most honourable gift one could give at this ceremony is a rifle. We can not, and do not, do this any more, and it hurts our spirit. It's just another law put on us to strip us of our pride.
Members of the standing committee, I must ask why no one consults with first nations on important issues such as this. Does anyone in Ottawa really know how much this affects first nations people right across Canada? It's another put-down to us, almost as though we aren't important and we have no voice in the matter.
Speaking of voice, Mr. Chair, I also heard the Liberal leader in Ottawa say that all his members have to vote to save the gun registry. If this is the case, then not only the first nations will lose their voice, but the majority of Yukon citizens will. We have only one voice in Parliament, and he belongs to the Liberal Party. One has to question whatever happened to democracy.
I could possibly talk for days on this topic, but time does not allow me to do so. However, I will summarize in this way. First, to first nations and others in the Yukon, a rifle has one of the highest values, so valuable that it is a necessity for living on the land, more precious than diamonds or gold. Second, first nations were not consulted on how this law would affect our aboriginal rights and traditional ceremonies. Third, we don't know how much money was spent to date on this law. We have heard it was billions. Our only response is that we sure could have used this money to upgrade our homes.
We feel this law was written for the big cities in the south, and no thought was given to those who live off the land. In first nations families, guns are passed down to others through death. I was given one of my dad's rifles when he died. We are unable to do this any more.
Our only vote in the Yukon is being jeopardized by a whipped vote by the Liberals. I say this with respect for Larry, because I sincerely believe he would support his constituents and vote in favour of Bill C-391.
Members of the committee, I thank you for your time today. I thank you for giving me a chance to be heard. It took a lot of courage to come here today, because I don't know you and you are much more powerful than I, but I had to. A friend of mine said to me at a potlatch ceremony two days ago, and I quote, “When you go to Ottawa, tell those people guns don't kill. It's the stupid bastard who points a loaded gun at someone and pulls the trigger.”
I respectfully ask all of you members, from every party, to support Bill C-391, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.
I thank you very much.
Mr. Chair, I had documents to table, but they were not translated into French. The committee members will receive them in a few days. Thank you.