Firearm training, safety more about the person handing the weapon than the weapon itself: Diabo

Penalizing law-abiding firearm owners by outright banning or putting restrictions on many firearms simply puts more power in the hands of those who shouldn’t be handling weapons at all, a Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief said last week in the wake of a visit from a federal minister, where a new gun law was high on the agenda.

“Knowledge is power,” MCK chief and former Peacekeeper Cody Diabo said in the wake of a meeting with federal Public Safety minister Marco Medicino where a proposed new law that would restrict gun ownership drastically was up for discussion. “For myself and a lot of community members, it feels like a situation where they’re penalizing law-abiding gun owners. It’s law-abiding people who are taking the safety courses, who are locking up their weapons, who are registering their weapons, and they’re the ones paying the price. It’s only criminals and people who shouldn’t have firearms in the first place who are causing all the problems.”

The proposed law -- Bill C-21 -- proposes a national freeze on the sale, purchase or transfer of handguns by individuals in Canada, and would put an end to bringing newly-acquired handguns into Canada as of October 21, 2022. Legal ownership of handguns remains legal, and individuals can continue to possess and use their registered handguns and can sell or transfer their registered handguns to exempted individuals or businesses.

Amendments, which were recently dropped, would have expanded the scope of the ban to include many riffles and long guns used for hunting.

Requests submitted by individuals before October 21, 2022, to transfer a handgun within Canada will continue to be processed.

In fact, Diabo’s fellow MCK chief, Jessica Lazare, presented the community’s position Tuesday in Ottawa in front of a parliamentary committee. She reiterated the MCK's position that "the legislation will have significant and unacceptable impacts on our people."

“We want to make it clear that an alignment is needed between the Canadian government drafting legislation and recognizing our inherent rights, which are ingrained in our roles and responsibilities as Onkwehón:we," Lazare said.

In a letter addressed to committee chair Ron McKinnon and Public Safety minister Marco Mendicino, the MCK stated "the Bill will place unfair burdens on the shoulders of the Peacekeepers who safeguard our territory and will increase the potential for discriminatory and over-policing of our people off-territory."

"This bill is being considered to the detriment of our ability to exercise our rights to conduct a culturally rooted practice," Lazare added. "The realities of Indigenous people who travel for sustenance harvesting with their firearms are being overlooked due to lack of consultation."

Diabo, who was a Peacekeeper from 2011 to 2017, said his progression from firearm neophyte when he began his police training to today has been drastic.

“I was nervous, sure,” he said. “I think a lot of people are fearful of that which is new, or different and I was nervous, to a point, when we started our training, which was six months of pistols.”

Further long-gun and assault-style weapon training in his Peacekeeper days taught Diabo a healthy respect for guns and his feeling is that further government investment in education, training and ongoing awareness courses might help more than a blanket ban on new handgun ownership.

“You do develop a healthy sense of respect for the weapon, and I suggested to the minister that such investments might be a better way of proceeding than just a ban,” Diabo said.

Diabo said his police training taught him that it’s the people behind the weapon that pose more of a threat to public safety – and that it’s more likely that weapon holder will be a person he’s not sure about if C-21 passes in the House of Commons.

“In policing, if there’s a firearm involved, all of a sudden, the temperature goes up a little bit and the adrenaline begins to spike. If you have a traffic stop, for instance, and you see a firearm, you’re a lot more concerned about the person and what they’re doing and that’s an important lesson. It’s about the person,” he concluded.

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase