The wrong arm of the law

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Once again Quebec is pushing a policy without taking the time to address how it will affect First Nations in the province. You might think the Quebec government has a collective form of Alzheimer’s disease given the forgotten lessons of both the La Grande and Grande Baleine projects. One led Quebec kicking and screaming to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the other was ultimately shelved after an international Cree campaign against it. These are only two examples of the consequences of making unilateral decisions affecting Cree lives and territory.

Lately Quebec decided to add to that with Bill 64, The Firearms Registration Act. First Nations communities and organizations weren’t included in the process of drafting the legislation. Instead, the gun-control and gun-lobby groups were heard and pandered to by Quebec’s politicians. The bill passed almost without a word of dissent – 99 to 8 – as it supposedly represented public safety and crime prevention.

The National Firearms Association launched a constitutional challenge to Bill 64 and is seeking an injunction until a judge hears the case. So the fight outside Eeyou Istchee on Bill 64 isn’t over.

But what are the Cree doing? The Grand Council presented a brief on April 5 to a National Assembly committee studying the bill. It may not be as hard hitting as some would like it, but various laws and legally binding agreements support their objections.

Those are based mainly on the constitutionally protected rights, including Cree traditional and harvesting rights. Section 24.3.18 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement enshrines the exercise of the right to harvest, saying it “shall not be subject to the obtaining of permits, licenses, or other authorization.”

Crees have used guns for centuries for harvesting activities. As such, the Cree Nation Government is willing to look at a Cree-Quebec table to look at these issues and solutions.

The argument that a police officer needs to know if there are guns in the house doesn’t work in Cree communities. Every Cree home has guns. No registry is needed to know that. Every Cree child is taught how to use guns safely. Children know guns are a necessary tool in the Cree way of life.

The disregard for First Nations people in the design of this law is shameful. Our ideas and suggestions would have made this move much more acceptable. As it stands, however, a Cree with an unregistered weapon can expect fines and possible confiscation of their arms. Yet another court case seems to be in the works if the historic rights of Aboriginal people are ignored.

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