Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good morning.
First of all, I want to acknowledge the territory that I'm calling from, the unceded, unsurrendered, continually occupied territory of the Lheidli T'enneh.
I want to thank all the committee members for attending today, and also Vice-Chief Bear and the Métis Nation.
Since we have a very short time, I want to get into our concerns and recommendations. I think we can all agree that we want safer communities, and part of ensuring that our communities are safe includes greater restrictions on access to weapons like handguns and assault weapons.
The federal government's initiatives to restrict or freeze the sale or transfer of such weapons under Bill C-21 is commendable in this regard. However, we are very concerned about the lack of clarity with respect to red flag or yellow flag laws that are applicable to first nations people specifically on reserve and in first nations communities.
Handguns and assault-style weapons are not used for hunting. However, the provisions of Bill C-21 will establish red flag and yellow flag laws and provide no guidelines for how those new laws would apply to first nations.
This is significant, as it may affect the possession of firearms such as long guns or rifles, which are commonly and responsibly used by first nations in our first nations reserves and communities and in traditional or treaty territories for hunting purposes. Parliament must not overlook this issue if it involves possible restrictions to aboriginal and treaty rights to hunt, which have been affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 and also in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which was passed last year.
First nations women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people experience some of the highest rates of gender-based violence and intimate partner violence in the country. At the same time, first nations men and women are overincarcerated at staggering rates. First nations people remain Canada's fastest-growing prison population, despite decades of well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective criminal legal system recommendations and reforms that have failed to redress systemic racism, sexism and colonialism within the criminal justice system.
As I said, first nations people are already overincarcerated and overpoliced at disproportionately high rates. It's not clear how this proposed legislation may contribute to or enable increased discriminatory police practices or negative interactions with law enforcement.
Gangs certainly are a growing problem in first nations communities and reserves, but this legislation provides no new tools for first nations police agencies to address gang and gun violence, which is one of the ostensible objectives of the proposed bill. Gang violence stems from chronic issues such as poverty, lack of services, unemployment and intergenerational violence. Addressing these root causes would do more to reduce gang violence than imposing further restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners. We are looking for more co-operation between non-indigenous police forces, such as the RCMP, and our first nations and indigenous police forces.
Our recommended amendments are as follows.
The AFN recommends that the provisions of Bill C-21 dealing with red flag and yellow flag laws be altered to ensure that first nations inherent and constitutional rights are respected.
We recommend that you clarify how red flag and yellow flag laws will apply to first nations people, specifically first nations reserves.
We recommend that an oversight mechanism be included to ensure that the chief firearms officer consult with first nations with respect to red flag and yellow flag orders and ensure they do not restrict access to firearms commonly used in hunting.
We recommend that Bill C-21 be implemented to support first nations police services and ensure that the resources they require to maintain law and order within their jurisdictions are provided specifically in relation to root causes of gangs and gun violence.
We recommend that Bill C-21 be implemented to support first nations prevention programs for youth in relation to gang violence and illegal guns.
Finally, we recommend that Bill C-21 be implemented to support first nations prevention programs targeting gender-based violence and violence against first nations women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
Fundamentally, the AFN asserts that the Government of Canada must conduct a process to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of first nations as required by article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, now embedded in Canada's own act on this matter.
Thank you for the time, and certainly we look forward to your questions.