Don’t leave NWT out of gun debate

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NWT MP Michael McLeod let slip last week what he and the Northwest Territories are up against in the latest debate over gun control.

When asked whether consultations on potentially banning handguns and “assault weapons” would include voices from the NWT, McLeod said the real pressure is coming from the “bigger cities” — i.e., ridings his Liberal Party government cannot afford to lose if it wants to win the federal election next year.

Can it afford to lose him? A gun ban might not be a hill to live or die on but his response is emblematic of the North’s frustrations with Ottawa. The three territories each elected a Liberal MP to help the party form the government in the 2015 election but McLeod tells us Bill Blair, the minister and former Toronto chief of police heading up the consultations, might only visit one of the territories, if any at all. But feel free to fill out the government’s online survey.

“The government is under some pressure to respond to some of the bigger cities, Montreal and Toronto specifically,” said McLeod.

“He’s indicated that he’s coming North but at this point I don’t know where he’s going.”

Well, we know he is going to vote-rich Toronto and Montreal, multiple times no doubt. We understand they have concerns about guns there but the territory does as well.

The Northwest Territories is second only to Nunavut in the rate of violent firearm-related crimes, 67.5 per population of 100,000, according to Statistics Canada. The national average in 2016 was 25.5 per 100,000.

There has been much discussion recently about the insistence by police and other government officials claiming – without any reliable data – that most gun-related crimes in Canada nowadays are being committed with firearms coming from within the country, instead of being smuggled in from the United States.

We don’t have any data either but we do know about two high-profile thefts of handguns in recent weeks – one in Yellowknife, the other in Fort Smith – from people’s homes. A handgun stolen from a Range Lake-areas home was reportedly used to injure a man during a wild evening of gun play outside Fraser Arms apartments in 2015.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue of legal handgun ownership, clearly the NWT has a perspective and should be heard by the politicians calling the shots in Ottawa. A survey simply won’t cut it.

Perhaps what’s most at stake for the North is the discussion on assault weapons. There is a fear among gun rights activists that an assault weapons ban may include many firearms widely used for hunting.

These are legitimate concerns considering the fiasco that followed the rollout of the Liberal long gun registry in the 1990s. Suddenly, simple things such as buying ammunition for hunting in remote communities, became much more difficult. This is what happens when Ottawa listens to Toronto but ignores the North.

The Northwest Territories deserves to be heard in this debate. McLeod must work harder to secure a commitment from Minister Blair to come to the territory and hear from Northerners.

If he can’t make that happen it will be yet another example of southern Canada running roughshod over the North. And if NWT residents aren’t heard, McLeod will have to accept the blame.

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