Cree hunter upset after Quebec police question if his guns are registered

Samuel Cox, a Cree hunter and firearms instructor from Chisasibi, says he was stopped by provincial police while out hunting. He was asked to provide proof that his guns were registered under the new provincial long-gun registry.

Cree Trapper's Association signs agreement with Quebec for extra support to register hunters

Samuel Cox has been hunting the region near Chisasibi since he was nine years old. He is concerned that traditional land users, elders in particular, will be confronted by police officers while out on the land about whether their firearms are registered. (Susan Bell/CBC)

Samuel Cox says he was surprised earlier this month when two Quebec provincial police officers on snowmobiles stopped him and his grandson while they were out hunting ptarmigan in the bush near the Cree community of Chisasibi. 

One of the things the officers wanted to know was if the hunters' firearms were registered under the provincial long-gun registry, which came into effect in Quebec on Jan. 29.

"I've never been approached like that," said Cox, who has hunted in the area since the age of nine. "Especially when I'm off the road and in the bush, to have somebody chase me down and check me out." 

Cox is also a firearms instructor with the Cree Nation of Chisasibi and a tallyman, or Cree land steward. 

We haven't been being bothering anyone with our traditional way of life, we're just trying to harvest what we eat.-Samuel Cox, Chisasibi hunter and firearms instructor 

Since the end of January, hunters in Quebec can face fines of up to $5,000 if their firearms are not registered.

Cox says he wasn't given a fine on the spot, but was told by the officers that if any fines were due they would hand deliver them to him in Chisasibi. 

Cox says he registered his firearms under the old federal gun registry that was scrapped in 2012 and intends to register under the Quebec long-gun registry, but he says he didn't appreciate being questioned by Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers.  

Two young Cree hunters during Goose Break in May of 2018. Cree, like other Indigenous hunters in Quebec, must register their firearms under the provincial long-gun registry, which came into effect on Jan. 29. (Submitted by Roger Orr)

"Our ancestors have been living off the land since time immemorial, long before anybody else came here," said Cox.

He's concerned that other hunters, particularly elders, might find themselves confronted while out on the land, trying to harvest much needed food.  

"We haven't been being bothering anyone with our traditional way of life, we're just trying to harvest what we eat."

CBC requested an interview with Quebec's Ministry of Public Security, but no one was made available as of publishing.

After this story was published, a spokesperson for Sûreté du Québec confirmed that Cox and his grandson were stopped April 5, originally for a verification of their all-terrain vehicle and were asked some questions. 

The spokesperson said officers are not conducting more patrols in the area to check if people have registered their firearms under the new provincial law. 

Cree sign agreement with Quebec

Clark Shecapio, executive director with the Cree Trapper's Association (CTA), says he has heard that Cree hunters from other communities have also been questioned by SQ officers. He says many Cree hunters mistakenly believe that because they registered their firearms under the old federal system, they don't have to register under the new Quebec law. 

He says his staff are working to help Cree hunters through the registration process so they meet the new requirements.

Some of the geese caught during the annual spring hunt in the James Bay region of Quebec. 'We're just trying to harvest what we eat,' says hunter Samuel Cox. (Submitted by Fred Tomatuk)

Firearms can be registered by mail or online, and the process is free. But Shecapio says some Cree traditional land users, particularly elders, speak neither French nor English, which makes it difficult to navigate the registration process.

"There's a language barrier. And also a [technological] one," said Shecapio. 

Earlier this month, the association signed what Shecapio calls an "administrative agreement" with Quebec to get extra training for local CTA representatives so they can better help Cree hunters navigate the registration process. 

"I wanted my staff to be properly informed so they could help answer those questions," said Shecapio.

The agreement will also allow for any educational materials produced by the province to be translated into Cree. 

The training and translated materials are expected to be made available in the Cree communities sometime in May, after the annual Goose Break holiday. 

Cree Nation negotiating exemptions

The Cree Nation Government is still in negotiations with the Quebec Ministry of Public Security regarding potential exemptions or adjustments for Cree hunters of certain parts of the law, according to its executive director Bill Namagoose. 

"It is important to understand that Chapter 24 of the [James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement] does give us the right to hunt, fish, and trap in Eeyou Istchee with the tools required to do so, like firearms," said Namagoose.

A file photo of Cree Nation Government executive director Bill Namagoose. He says Cree have the right to hunt, fish, and trap in Eeyou Istchee. (Commission d’enquête CERP)

"However, we also need to understand that these rights may be regulated for safety reasons by Quebec and Canada," he said, adding that Cree hunters are taught from the earliest ages to handle firearms safely.

Cox says he's not sure what will happen if he ends up with a fine, adding he has concerns about provincial police patrolling the territory more often. 

"To have people looking down our back and chasing us while we are in the bush. We will always be on guard trying to practise our way of life," said Cox.