First of all, to the committee, I'd like to say I'm happy to be here. I wish I didn't have to be here, but I'm greeting you from the beautiful, unceded and unsurrendered Treaty No. 6 territory in Saskatoon.
Bill C-71 is the subject of a great deal of controversy and commentary across Canada. First nations have a long history of using firearms in cultural activities in this country. In all legislative matters that may have the potential to impact aboriginal and treaty rights, the AFN continues to advocate and work with the governments to incorporate our perspectives into Canadian laws.
The key issues at stake in Bill C-71 are Canada's power to monitor the activities of gun owners, particularly extending their requirements for background checks; the imposition of restrictions on the transport of restricted and prohibited firearms; new record-keeping requirements for a retail business selling firearms; more power to the RCMP to classify firearms without ministerial oversight; and requiring private citizens to confirm the validity of the firearm licence of the recipient whenever a firearm is either sold or given away, in an effort to reduce gang and gun violence.
On these issues, first nations have expertise and hard experience to offer this committee, and also to the government and Canadians as a whole. While many first nations would agree that handguns, restricted firearms, and other weapons used by gangs should be taken off the streets, the core of this discussion is the balancing of federal laws and authorities with the perspectives of first nations and the aboriginal treaty rights affirmed under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. First nations as individuals and as nations will assert our fundamental cultural rights to hunt, fish, and trap. First nations have had a right to transmit their cultures to the future generations without outside interference.
With the promise to build on the nation-to-nation relationship with first nations by the Canadian government, opportunities to voice our concerns such as this are vital for not only the Canadian legal framework, but also for the country of Canada as a whole. Parliament needs to consider the impacts of this legislation on first nations at the earliest stages of the process. Bill C-71 has provisions that could adversely impact first nations' rights, and these provisions should be amended by this committee before the legislation proceeds to the next reading.
The proposed amendments to the Firearms Act raise serious constitutional concerns to first nations. Our first concern is that this bill does not incorporate or safeguard our aboriginal and treaty rights that might be impinged, such as our treaty right to hunt. Nowhere in this draft legislation does it state how the provisions of the bill will be implemented for first nations or on our reserves. It should be made clear that the first nations' hunting rights will be respected and that we won't need a transport certificate for any kind of hunting rifle, even those classified as restricted.
Our aboriginal and treaty rights are foundational and are affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. They take precedence over laws that apply generally to all Canadians. We ask Canada to protect our right to freely transport firearms on our territories and in the exercise of our hunting rights.
Our second concern is with the new transportation and transfer requirements for restricted and prohibited firearms. There are no guidelines for these new amendments and how they would apply to first nations. In particular, how would they apply to hunting purposes on first nations? Although most hunting rifles are currently not restricted, that could change under the classification system. These provisions will further affect the intergenerational transmission of our culture through the transfer of a firearm.
Future changes in the classification system could make currently non-restricted firearms become restricted. The RCMP has discretion to designate any particular firearm as restricted, prohibited, or non-restricted. On what basis will the RCMP make those decisions? Who will receive the classification to make sure that the hunting rifles remain unrestricted?
Concerning background checks, under the new rules, the entire life of a person who applies for a firearm licence will be examined, instead of just the past five years. First nations people are more likely to have criminal records due to systemic discrimination and other reasons I won't get into right now, but is it fair that a person could be denied a licence on the basis of a criminal offence committed 20 or 30 years ago? Does that really predict how likely he or she is to misuse a firearm today? Obviously we need to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with serious mental illnesses, but why punish a person who made a mistake decades ago?
Canada says that Bill C-71 will reduce gang violence, but many gang members obtain guns illegally on the black market. The new rules affect law-abiding citizens and don't do anything to curb gang violence. The homicide rate in Canada for licensed gun owners is 0.6% per 100,000, which is one third the rate of the general population. Instead of placing unnecessary restrictions on the rights of licensed gun owners, Canada should do more to directly address gang violence. This means making sure first nations have the funding to operate their own police forces and that they are properly trained and equipped.
Bill C-71 brings in new firearms transportation laws, which will be an additional responsibility for first nations police services. Canada continues to designate our police services as non-essential and fails to provide enough funding under the first nations policing program. The first nations police agencies must provide a service equal to that of non-indigenous police services. This bill will further burden our police forces, and we will require more investment to uphold the enforcement requirements of this bill.
First nations police forces are also equipped with inferior weapons compared with gangs, and more training for certification of firearms used by other police forces must be made available to first nations police agencies. Currently, there are no provisions in the bill for increased funding for first nations police forces.
This bill proposes additional requirements for businesses to keep records of the sale of firearms and of purchasers. We have concerns around privacy provisions, which are not in this bill. In the event of a breach in security of these records, how will this legislation ensure the safety of confidential information? Records need to be kept for 20 years and are supposed to help authorities keep track of the sales and distribution of firearms. What about the rights of the people who purchase these weapons? Records should be kept in a locked, fireproof, and waterproof safe to which only the manager or owner of the business has access.
These are our concerns regarding this proposed legislation. We will continue to uphold first nations' rights and continue our long-standing traditions of hunting, trapping, and gathering on the lands we have tended for countless generations. Unfortunately, the process for developing this legislation did not meet the federal government's duty to consult and accommodate. We stand with the many other Canadians who are not willing to forfeit their fundamental rights and freedoms, and who are asking that this government engage in more careful crafting of this important piece of legislation. Canada must do better and more to meet its constitutional and treaty responsibilities to first nations.
I would like to thank this committee for its efforts to listen to first nations. We would like to continue to work with the Canadian government on this important issue, and are open to providing more insights on gun legislation.
I'd also like to add that the overall perspective is that first nations have exclusive jurisdiction to govern and regulate any activity over their lands and people, including the use and regulation of firearms, but I also want to speak about the cultural perspective as a mother and a grandmother. When you look at our young men—my son, my nephews, my grandchildren—it's a beautiful thing when they have that rite of passage and can have a gun. It generally comes as a gift.
[Witness speaks in Cree]