Inuit groups gather to improve gun law

Senator Charlie Watt is heading up an effort to amend the Firearms Act.



IQALUIT — Ottawa’s new gun law may make life safer for Southerners, but it’s endangering Nunavummiut.

That’s the worry of an Inuit working group that plans to propose changes to the law.

The group, spearheaded by Quebec Senator Charlie Watt and composed of representatives of Inuit organizations from across Canada, wants to make the gun law more compatible with Inuit culture.

While the group has the blessing — and funding — of the federal Justice Department and the Canadian Firearms Centre, Ottawa isn’t promising that it will enact the changes the group asks for.

The federal Firearms Act, which went into effect January 1, makes it a crime to use or possess firearms without a licence. Licences must also be presented at retail stores to purchase ammunition.

Under the law, it may also be illegal to leave weapons loaded when they are transported on the land or left in camp.

All these rules might be appropriate for city-dwellers, but they run counter to Inuit culture and pose a danger to Northern hunters and their families, said Lorraine Brook, the working group’s coordinator.

“The objective of the whole regime is to improve public safety, but from a Northern perspective it ironically has the opposite effect, in that it’s diminishing personal safety out on the land,” Brook said.

She said the law may imperil women and children if they can’t legally have a loaded gun in their camps when bears or rabid animals are in the area.

“And it interferes with all the normal practices of sharing and lending and borrowing weapons,” she said. “You have five brothers in the family and you might have four guns, but they’re all used communally.”

Finally, she said, “It’s very problematic from the perspective of a successful hunt. You’ve got to have your gun ready to go when game presents itself.”

The working group includes representatives from the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Makivik Corporation, the Kativik Regional Government, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Labrador Inuit Association, and the Labrador Metis Association.

The members met for the first time earlier this month in Ottawa, and plan to gather there again in early June. Later that month they hope to present the justice department with an outline of their concerns about the law.

If the report get a positive reception, Brook said, the group will get together with lawyers in the fall to hammer out specific language for suggested amendments to the legislation.

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