Shooting off their mouths again


Nunavummiut saw just how distanced the federal government really is from real life in Nunavut last week, when Justice Robert Kilpatrick issued an interim stay in the application of the federal Firearms Act against Aboriginal people.

Crown lawyers representing the Solicitor General of Canada, which represents the federal government in the case, used a ridiculous and offensive argument to defend their position that imposing the law would not cause “irreparable harm” to Inuit.

“The Crown points to a number of anthropological and sociological case studies … to suggest that actual participation rates of Inuit in harvesting activities, and Inuit dependence upon harvesting as a food source has declined over time,” Kilpatrick wrote when describing the federal government’s position.

“The Crown also argues that those Inuit unable to access firearms can always use commercially available foods as an alternative to that ordinarily obtained through harvesting practices.”

In other words, if Inuit with unregistered guns don’t want to face criminal charges for using them to hunt, they can just go to the grocery store and buy some beef flown in from the South, as any Inuk who doesn’t own a gun would do.

But for many Inuit, retail food sales in Nunavut only supplement food procured through hunting. Even Inuit who don’t hunt rely on country food provided by friends and relatives.

George Wenzel writes in his 1991 book, Animal Rights, Human Rights: Ecology, Economy and Ideology in the Canadian Arctic, that this has been the case since retail food operations were introduced in the North more than 50 years ago.

“Government policy of the 1950s was built on the assumption that the basic economy of hunting and trapping would no longer be able to provide a suitable livelihood. Planners relocated Inuit without providing support for harvesting, but Inuit did what they had always done; they adapted available resources and opportunities into the scheme of subsistence,” Wenzel writes.

“Although the growth of southern influence in Inuit communities during these decades included an explosion in the variety and amount of important foods, Inuit recognized very quickly that the monetary cost of these goods was prohibitive.”

What the Crown lawyers do not take into account is that protecting the Inuit right to hunt is only partly about preserving the culture. More importantly, it is about one of the basic elements of survival.

So why should putting food on the table get in the way of gun control?

“I can’t see a family of five going down to the Northern and buying a $25 steak,” Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.

She’s right, of course. Even if country food was not more nutritious than store-bought food, and even if it was not the primary method of Inuit survival for thousands of years, it would still be the most abundant and economically viable food supply in the North today.

Now, perhaps it is not the responsibility of the Solicitor General of Canada to weigh in on issues of health and personal finance. The Solicitor General’s primary job, after all, is to oversee major programs for the department of justice – including the RCMP or corrections.

It would make sense then that public safety is the Solicitor General’s primary objective in applying the Firearms Act. And there is certainly a safety concern regarding firearms in Nunavut. The number of firearms accidents in Nunavut is high, for example.

But Crown lawyers might have missed their chance to make that argument. After shooting off their mouths about going to the grocery store, who’s going to listen to them now? PD

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