Manitoba

What Brian Pallister has said about night hunting

Since mid-January, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has been under fire for comments he made about night hunting, saying the practice is leading to a “race war.”

Manitoba premier calling on Indigenous elders to help curb night hunting

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister disputes comments about Indigenous hunters attributed to him in Maclean's magazine but remains steadfast in his opposition to night hunting, calling it a dangerous practice. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Since mid-January, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has been under fire for comments he made about night hunting, saying the practice is leading to a "race war."

Night hunting often involves using high-powered spotlights which can stun animals before they are shot. The practice is only legal for Treaty status hunters on Crown lands or on private land where they have the right of access.

Here's a roundup of what the premier and his office have said so far on the topic of night hunting.

Pallister's first comments on night hunting:

The now somewhat infamous "race war" statement came from a talk Pallister gave Jan. 16 at a Progressive Conservative Party luncheon in Virden, Man. CBC obtained a copy of the recording from CJ103 Radio reporter Heather Reimer.

In the town of Virden, he clearly stated his belief that night hunting is in conflict with sustainable hunting practices. Pallister also said that he intends to bring elders forward to speak with younger Indigenous hunters who he said are responsible for most of the night hunting in Manitoba.

"What is fair about going out and shooting at a pair of eyes in the night with a high powered rifle? What's sustainable about that? We've tripled the charges from the NDP we've doubled the number of possessions of vehicles. But it isn't going to change unless people's attitude start to change about this. This is a poor practice, a dumb practice, an unfair practice. How's that? Am I mincing my words?

"It's just not right. It should stop. So what are we doing? We're organizing. We're organizing to bring Indigenous people together and say the same thing that I just said to you. Because it's becoming a race war and I don't want that.

"Their elders have been intimidated by them to not say anything. They need to come forward and they need to be involved in this discussion. This is not how most Indigenous people think. They think seven generations into the future. In eastern Canada that's the culture of the Mohawk, the Six Nations people, is to think out into the future."

Manitoba's premier had already departed for his secluded vacation home in Costa Rica when the comments came to light.

After the race war comments, Pallister faced criticism from opposition leaders and Indigenous advocates in the province for inflaming tensions.

 In response to stories about the comments, the premier's office issued a statement that included the following:

"Our government has increased enforcement but increased enforcement will not, on its own, be enough to curtail this dangerous practice."

"Every Manitoban has the right to safety and security but discussion around the topics of night hunting and dangerous hunting have become focused on the rights of one group versus another. There must be a change in attitude and we must recognize that rights do not trump responsibilities. Our government is reaching out to all Indigenous communities and we will continue to engage leaders, community members and elders on this and other important issues."

Read the full statement here.

The premier's office also told media that over the last five years, 77.5 per cent of night lighting charges laid involved persons with Treaty status.

Night hunting is legal in parts of the province for Indigenous hunters. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Interview with Maclean's:

It was not until a Maclean's reporter visited his estate in the Central American country that media was able to hear a followup response directly from Pallister.

In the article published Jan. 26, Maclean's reporter Nancy Macdonald said the premier refused to apologize for the words he used at the Virden event. She quoted Pallister as saying:

"Young Indigenous men — a preponderance of them are offenders, with criminal records — are going off shooting guns in the middle of the night. It doesn't make sense."

Since the article was published, opposition critics have increased their pressure on the premier calling his words racist and disgusting. Indigenous academics encouraged the premier to take a course in Indigenous rights.

In response to the criticism, Pallister's spokeswoman Olivia Baldwin-Valainis said on Jan. 27 that the government plans to "balance safety and sustainability considerations with fully recognized Indigenous rights."

In a written statement, she also said:

"Reports of dangerous hunting practices have increased and the number of charges have grown as well. Two human lives have been lost, livestock have been found shot on private property and agricultural equipment, homes and buildings have been hit by stray bullets."

"Our government is reaching out to Indigenous community members and elders with the intent of refocusing the discussion where it belongs, on ensuring the safety and security of all Manitobans."

Read the full Jan. 27 statement here.

Premier denies quote in Maclean's article:

The premier's office denied to CBC Manitoba that he said the quote in the Maclean's article. Macdonald did not record the interview and said it was not her magazine's practice to supply reporter notes.

In a phone interview with the Winnipeg Free Press from Costa Rica about the Maclean's quote, Pallister said his choice of words at the Virden event where he invoked the term "race war" were "unfortunate." He also flatly denied the quote used by Macdonald in her Maclean's piece.

Pallister stressed the right Indigenous people have to hunt on Crown land and on private land with permission of landowners:

"There are court-established, well-established indigenous hunting rights. Jurisprudence is very clear on this: Indigenous people have the right to hunt on their land, they have the right to hunt on Crown land, they have the right to night hunt on private land with the permission of landowners."

He told the Free Press he was concerned about "night shooting," which he defined as hunters firing weapons from trucks using bright lights in areas they are not permitted to hunt such as on or near highways and farm properties.

"I think it's important to get people talking about this issue. People are getting fearful and concerned. I'm hearing this from indigenous hunters and elders, too. This is across the board. Out in the country where the night-shooting activity is happening, it's scaring people. It's a growing problem."

On Jan. 31, Pallister spoke to Winnipeg reporters for the first time since returning from Costa Rica earlier in the week. He was asked whether he would apologize for comments he had made about night hunting. The premier did not apoloigize but did offer regret. 

"I have real concerns that I want to keep the dialogue around how we can protect people and save lives in our province. We've already had two people killed as the result of night hunting incidents. We've had numerous other incidents, close calls and there's been nothing done."

"I want to — as I've always done — bring people together in finding solutions to the problem and so I regret the turn it's taken in terms of those comments but I don't regret raising the issue because it's been ignored for a long time."

In a follow-up question, a reporter asked Pallister what he meant by the term race war.

"You'd have to have been at the meeting but I guess in the context of the discussion people were raising things like taking action against those who come on their land with loaded guns in their vehicles and things like this.

And so probably in an effort to make sure that they didn't do that and to quell the concerns that [many] have expressed to us, including leading municipal and Indigenous leaders, about how this is causing people to make statements and in some cases take actions which are very dangerous and violent potentially, I think I used the wrong choice of words, but I was trying to make sure that people understood that we're addressing this issue."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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