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First Nations leaders reject Trudeau's proposed gun law

An amendment to Bill C-21, which is currently being debated by members of Parliament, aims to create an evergreen definition for "assault-style" weapons, but some First Nations leaders saw the law goes too far and will infringe treaty rights
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Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief, RoseAnne Archibald, speaks during the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations are set to vote on whether to publicly oppose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's proposed gun-control legislation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

OTTAWA — Chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations voted Thursday to publicly oppose the Liberal government's proposed gun-control legislation. 

An amendment to Bill C-21, which is currently being debated by members of Parliament, aims to create an evergreen definition for "assault-style" weapons and enshrine it in law, allowing the government to ban hundreds of models of firearms.

Some First Nations leaders say they're concerned to see rifles used for hunting on the list and voted to take a stand against the bill, which they say infringes on their treaty rights.

"We totally oppose this bill," Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg told the gathering. 

He says these guns are a "tool," not a weapon. 

The AFN, a national advocacy organization representing more than 600 First Nations across the country, had previously raised concerns about the legislation's potential effects on hunting rights at a meeting of the House of Commons committee that is studying the bill. 

On Thursday, chiefs carried an emergency resolution that was brought to the floor with unanimous support at their special assembly. It called on the AFN to push the government to make changes to the bill, including ensuring that long guns used by First Nations hunters do not fall under the ban, and improve its consultations with affected groups.

Their vote came as Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were set to address the gathering in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon. 

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who addressed chiefs earlier in the day, told them he shares their concerns about the legislation's effect on treaty rights.

"Any amendment that in any way contravenes your treaty rights is an amendment that we will not support," Singh said. 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who is one of the most vocal critics of the bill and the amendment, didn't appear in person to deliver his first message to the chiefs as party leader. His office said he was out of town.

Instead, Poilievre provided a short video, in which he spoke about his support for helping nations achieve economic reconciliation. It was played before chiefs were set to debate a set of resolutions regarding residential school survivors.

After the video ended, a few boos could be heard from the audience. Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod walked to a microphone in the room and pleaded with organizers to "not ever again put a video like that ahead of our residential school survivors," which earned applause from the crowd. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press