Saturday, April 4, 2009

Canada's Racist Firearms Act

The Firearms Act, the law that regulates just about everything to do with civilian firearm ownership in Canada, contains several clauses pertaining solely to aboriginal peoples. This is, of course, racist on its face. As a refresher, I define racism as interjecting ethnicity into situations where it is not relevant. Since freedom of expression is sacrosanct around here, you're free to disagree with that definition. If you choose to do so, I am in turn free not to care.

I explained that definition of racism in this post, way back in May of last year. In that post I also said that I intended to write this article "soon". That says much about my sense of time's passage.

It's unsurprising that this Canadian law contains provisions for specific people based on their genetic makeup. Canadians, being open-minded, liberal, well-meaning folks, frequently try to enshrine helpful exemptions for the "disadvantaged" in law. However, given the barely concealed contempt for aboriginals that Canadian legislators demonstrate as often as they get the opportunity (see this article for a horrifying example), it's also unsurprising that the "Aboriginal Adaptations" are offensive and insulting to aboriginal people.

There are five ways that the Firearms Act treats Aboriginals differently. I said four back in May 2008; I was mistaken. I've edited a correction into that article. Revising history is fun when you're the one who gets to do it. We have always been at war with Eurasia.

I need to say at the outset that I'm going to have trouble linking to original sources for these. The RCMP took over the Canadian Firearms Program a while back, and a lot of the web links have been redirected or just no longer exist. You can find most of this stuff - maybe all - if you dig through the RCMP's current Firearms Program info page for Aboriginals, especially the Fact Sheet, and this now largely obsolete PDF booklet on the Firearms Act that was prepared for distribution to aboriginal peoples. The quotations I provide below are from one of those sources.

Let's start by listing the five provisions, and explore them each afterward:

1. Service in a language other than English or French (i.e., a traditional aboriginal language).
2. Possession Only Licence eligibility without owning a firearm.
3. Minor's Licences for children under 12.
4. Safety training exemptions.
5. "Recommendation for approval."

1. Service in a language other than English or French (i.e., a traditional aboriginal language). Canada has two official languages: English and French. If you want to deal with the Canadian government in any way, you better know one of them. However, although no promises are made, the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP from here on, because I'm tired of typing it out) says in that PDF booklet that aboriginal people may be able to take the normally prerequisite firearms safety course in their own language.

I don't care about this one, and wouldn't care even if the CFP's language was stronger, using terms like "make every effort to accommodate". As long as no actual obligations are taken on by the CFP (or any other government agency) to provide service in languages other than English and French, I don't care if they have somebody at the office who happens to know another language and is willing to talk to citizens in it. Same goes for Chinese, Italian, or any other language. This one's boring, but since it exists I wanted to list it. Let's move on.

2. Possession Only Licence eligibility without owning a firearm. Here's where the Act gets a bit complicated. There are two kinds of firearms licences: Possession Only Licences (POLs), which let you keep any firearms you already have but not get any more, and Possession and Acquisition Licences (PALs), which let you keep what you have and get more.

A POL is normally only available to people who already own at least one firearm. In fact, a POL is not available at all anymore to anyone who doesn't already have one, because all firearms in Canada were supposed to have been registered by a deadline some years ago. The legal logic was that anyone who already owned firearms should have already had their licence by then, since you need a licence before you can register, so in theory on the registration deadline there was nobody left in Canada who owns a firearm but doesn't have a licence.

It also seems logical on its face that if you don't own a firearm, you don't need a POL. So, the law says that if you don't own a firearm, you can't have a POL.

Unless you're an aboriginal person. You see, the law figures that aboriginal people might have access to and want to use communally owned firearms. Davis (from Corner Gas) may not personally own a rifle, but his aboriginal community might have one that he wants to take out once a year or so to hunt. Perhaps the Canadian government figures that aboriginal society hasn't quite reached the level of the whole "private ownership of property" thing.

I actually don't have much problem with this adaptation, aside from the snarky aspersion in the previous sentence. I'd call this what it is: letting someone who doesn't own a firearm get a POL so they can borrow firearms that belong to someone else. Their band office, their neighbour, their cousin, whoever. The problem is that this option is not available to anyone who isn't aboriginal. If I want to get a POL just to borrow firearms, the CFP shuts the door in my face and tells me to get lost. It's a PAL, which means I have to take a safety course that isn't required for a POL, or I can go hunt ducks with a slingshot.

3. Minor's Licences for children under 12. Here's where things start to get really ugly. From that official RCMP - CFP info page I linked to above:

In most cases, the minimum age for obtaining a Minor’s Licence to borrow non-restricted rifles and shotguns is 12 years old. However, there is no minimum age for Aboriginal children who take part in the traditional hunting activities of their community.
Got that? Most kids have to be at least 12 to get a Minor's Licence (which allows them to borrow and use, but not take ownership of, firearms). Aboriginal kids have no minimum age limit.

Translation: "We wouldn't let prepubescent white children play with guns - their lives are valuable and filled with limitless potential. Aboriginal kids, on the other hand..."

Time to state a principle, while some readers are off looking up a phone number for the Human Rights Commission complaint hotline to file their complaints against me, thereby proving that irony is not dead.

I seriously doubt that any legislators consciously held that intention. Their intentions were probably good, although misguided and condescending. My interpretations are informed by my steadfast beliefs that (a) all human beings are created equal, with variations in skin colour ultimately being about as significant as those in hair colour, and should be treated as such under law; (b) failure to uphold such equal treatment is prima facie racism; (c) all human beings are inherently flawed and prone to doing wrong, stupid, and / or evil things. Yes, very much including me. This idea used to be called "original sin". These days it's called "nonconstructive thinking" by aromatherapy devotees and other deep thinkers.

So, while those legislators didn't set out to be vile racists, they crafted some vile, racist policies because they didn't agree with (a) and didn't think themselves subject to (c). Seeing it that way is all a matter of interpretation. As we'll be discussing more in future articles, the same facts can often be interpreted in very different ways depending on one's underlying beliefs, or worldview. Which interpretation is correct depends on which underlying worldview is correct. My worldview includes the three elements stated in the previous paragraph (with (c) as the foundational bedrock). I'm not aware of a single good argument against any of them. Your evaluation of any such arguments may vary depending on your worldview.

And yes, I'm deliberately presenting the most provocative interpretations I can here, to make the point. However, this is sincerely how I see it. Furthermore, I don't see any way you could cast these last three adaptations in a positive light, at least without tossing the three beliefs I outlined above.

4. Safety training exemptions. Time for another principle that really deserves its own entry. In fact, I started drafting one last June or so, and still have the first couple of paragraphs saved on my hard drive, but never finished it.

Here's the principle, stated very (probably overly) simply: when you see statements about (or references to) some identifiable group, try changing the identifiable group, preferably to its perceived opposite, and see if your feelings about the statement (or reference) change. It's easiest to do with gender or "black" and "white", but any group identifications work.

Some examples might help. Try reading a transcript of an interview with Al Sharpton or Spike Lee. Forget who the speaker is, and while reading switch "white" and "black". If it makes you really uncomfortable and sounds like a speech that could be given at a Klan rally to thunderous inbred applause, that means you get it.

Try these on for size: United Caucasian College Fund. Health clubs specifically forbidding women to join. An all-white awards ceremony instead of (or alongside) the NAACP awards. White Entertainment Television. Men's drinks half price at the local bar. "It's a white thing - you wouldn't understand." Stuff Asian People Like. "I accept this award on behalf of white men everywhere!"

Some of those may bother you more than others. Some may not bother you much at all. If none of them bother you, you probably should be bothered by that.

Which brings us to the problem with the safety training exemption idea. As noted earlier, you need safety training to get a PAL. However, one of the Aboriginal Adaptations exempts Aboriginals. It's not a rubber stamp - they still have to request and justify their exemption. However, the underlying logic is that using firearms is part of aboriginal culture. Put more bluntly, the assumption is that it's in their blood.

Let's do a little substitution. Instead of "Aboriginals generally know how to handle firearms - it's part of their culture", try, "Young urban black males don't need to take handgun training. It must be part of their culture. (After all, the statistics show that they already know how to use them.)"

This is how Canadian legislators think. People aren't individuals - they're only members of their group.

5. "Recommendation for approval." Pasted from the RCMP's site:
Background checks are performed to ensure that licence applicants are not likely to be a danger to themselves or to others. In some cases, the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) may issue a licence but place conditions on the licence that would limit the licence holder’s ability to use a firearm.

Aboriginal persons who are concerned that they might be refused a licence or that conditions may be placed on their licence may ask an Elder or leader in their community to sign a declaration on form CAFC 1016 to confirm the importance of their being able to take part in traditional hunting activities of their community. The CFO must consider such recommendations from an Elder or leader before refusing or placing conditions on the licence of an Aboriginal person.
The Chief Firearms Officer is the government agent in charge of actually deciding yea or nay on any given person's firearms licence. If a person is refused, a cause must be given. It's usually because the applicant's history makes them look like a public safety risk: a criminal record, mental problems, substance abuse, a history of violence. A person whose application is refused has a right of appeal.

This "recommendation for approval" is nothing but a preemptive appeal. The nice folks who wrote this law figured that so many Aboriginals would be refused and wind up needing to appeal that they might as well just get the appeal started right off the bat. After all, everybody knows that Aboriginals all have criminal records, mental illnesses, and / or substance abuse problems, right?

It's part of their culture.

This is how Canadian legislators see Aboriginals.

I know I shouldn't have to close with a disclaimer, but I have visions of some of my statements in this article being taken out of context. So, for the record: there are passages in this article where I employ a literary technique known as "sarcasm". I am not saying that I want aboriginal children playing with guns, that all Aboriginals have criminal records, etc. I'm trying to make the point that the Firearms Act was apparently written by people who believe these sorts of things, consciously or not. Those legislators would no doubt disagree with my interpretations. I think they would do well to take a long hard looks inside themselves and at the Act before trying to argue the matter.

For that matter, where are the protests from aboriginal people?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of part of the roof of my house. I'm currently wasting a lot of my time chasing contractors to come replace that board. That's a whole other article, maybe a series. I could try replacing it myself, but by the time I was finished my lack of any useful physical skills whatsoever would probably manifest as a large crater where my house used to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

(Google search. First entry. Took 2 seconds.)