Thank you. I'm speaking from the beautiful unceded, unsurrendered Treaty 6 territory this morning.
Thank you for asking the FSIN to appear as a witness on this important hearing regarding firearms legislation.
The FSIN promotes and protects the interests of 73 first nations in the province of Saskatchewan, and we are committed to honouring the spirit and the intent of the treaties, as well as the promotion, protection and implementation of treaty promises. I wish to speak today about the first nations' inherent, treaty and constitutionally protected rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather, and the continued struggle that our people face when it comes to systemic racism.
The assertion of our right to hunt is fundamental to the treaty promises that were made to first nations. We understand that Bill C-21 is being put forward to address public safety concerns and includes a freeze on hunting, red flag and yellow flag laws, provisions to prevent the smuggling and trafficking of illegal firearms, the prohibition of air guns and changes to the Criminal Code.
First nations are aware of safety concerns when it involves the protection of vulnerable people and likely have no issues with the freeze of handguns, or red flag laws, as our first nations are plagued with poverty, addiction, gangs and a drug crisis that seems to be worsening every day. It's one of the reasons we call for resources to establish our own legal systems, which include tribal police forces. When it comes to the safety of our nations, we support legislation that protects our women and LGBTQ+ persons and our citizens.
While we recognize the need to have the provisions to protect individuals who may be in immediate danger, when it comes to the yellow flag laws and the Criminal Code changes, there are concerns that these provisions could be abused to target first nations citizens. This is especially concerning for treaty sustenance hunters, who will be impacted by the yellow flag laws when they choose to carry a licence. The legislation provides that anyone can contact a chief firearms officer, a CFO, to report someone under the yellow flag regime. It could lead to the potential abuse of this section by having someone complain to a CFO with little information, thereby triggering an investigation.
Everyone in Saskatchewan knows that tensions are high between private land users and treaty sustenance hunters. It is therefore concerning that some private land users could report anyone they see out hunting—which many do already—and that the sustenance hunter could have his licence revoked and his guns confiscated. When guns are confiscated from sustenance hunters, it impacts them and their families when they have merely been trying to put food on the table.
When guns are confiscated it may also impact the whole nation, especially those who hunt for ceremonial purposes, in that sometimes we only need traditional food for ceremonies. These ceremonies include feasts. We also hunt to feed our people at funerals and to celebrate. We hunt for a lot of gatherings and occasions, so when you confiscate guns, you are doing a whole lot more than just taking away a gun.
If there are no safety issues and there is no issue of domestic violence or any kind of violence, then taking away a gun impacts our nations and our citizens' ability to assert our inherent, and treaty and constitutional rights. We also view our guns as a tool of our first nations sustenance hunters.
Now we know that this new law is about revoking a licence, but many of our hunters do not get a licence because their treaty did not require a licence for our people to hunt. First nations people have an inherent and treaty right to hunt, and do not require a licence or PAL to assert that right. Despite this, our hunters are harassed by conservation officers and the RCMP.
While the intent of Bill C-21 is to address public safety issues, I would recommend amendments to ensure that it is clear in the legislation that treaty hunters do not need a PAL or a licence when asserting their inherent, treaty and constitutional right to hunt. This is the reason we did not agree with some of Bill C-71, and this new legislation is another piece of imposed law that we have to deal with, especially when our people experience systemic racism. We know that our people are overpoliced and are overrepresented in the legal systems and jails. This new law talks about an exception for sustenance hunters, but we know that if a first nations person is asking for an exception to allow him to hunt, many judges would have a hard time letting that happen, because our people are not treated fairly and are assumed to be guilty of something.
Canada needs to do better at addressing the systemic racism that exists in the colonial system. Canada needs to change these systems so that our people are treated equally.
Canada needs to work with us on bringing back our own laws. Canada needs to provide the resources so that we can establish our own systems.
Canada needs to be mindful of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it relates to our ability to practise our ways of life. That includes hunting for sustenance and ceremonial purposes.
Canada also needs to take note of articles 2, 5, 11 and 15, and play an active role in preventing the ongoing systemic racism and injustices experienced by first nations every day.
If Canada can do all that, we will achieve true reconciliation.