Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government.

Environment Minister Pauline Frost said the federal government has a specific exemption for peace officers, such as conservation officers, and the employees equipped with the weapons will be trained.

“Our government remains committed to ensuring that all Yukoners feel safe throughout our territory by considering a common-sense approach to gun safety. I would like to reiterate that the officers who work for the Department of Environment are peace officers who have been skillfully trained to manage their tools,” she said.

Frost said the AR-10s are required “to ensure that the tools they have at their disposal are there to protect the rights of the laws they prescribe to enforce.”

In May the federal government introduced new legislation with a long list of firearms to be banned for use among the general public. Under the legislation even licensed gun owners who previously owned the listed firearms will lose the ability to sell, transport or use the identified weapons.

The ban includes the AR-10 rifles, in addition to around 1500 other models.

In the legislature on Nov. 23, MLA Stacey Hassard called the decision to order the AR-10s, which are not available to all Yukoners, “hypocritical” and asked the government to send a letter to the prime minister opposing the ban.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell has supported the ban on the list of firearms.

“On the one hand, you have the prime minister and Yukon’s Liberal Member of Parliament saying that these types of guns have no use in Canada and they’re only meant for killing people. On the other hand, you have the Yukon Liberal government purchasing 20 of these AR rifles saying that they’re necessary to deal with human-wildlife conflict,” Hassard said.

“Many Yukoners could easily find themselves in exactly the same scenario of human-wildlife conflict that the government is justifying as the reason that these guns are necessary for employees at the Department of Environment,” he said.

Diana Dryburgh-Moraal, a Yukon government analyst who works with conservation officers, said the current bolt-action patrol rifles are being phased out due to a lack of manufacturer support and quality control concerns.

“Yukon Conservation Officers tested various rifles and reviews indicated the semi-automatic patrol rifle is easy to carry and provides a quick and effective shot placement,” she said. “It’s proven to be extremely quick and effective in both obtaining a sight picture and rapidly fire effective shots in high stress situations, such as engaging a charging grizzly bear at close range.

“We need to make every effort to offer them the best protection in terms of equipment, training and support. These rifles help fulfill the government’s responsibility under occupational health and safety to keep officers safe,” Dryburgh-Moraal said.

Dryburgh-Moraal noted that conservation officers in Saskatchewan are already using semi-automatic rifles and British Columbia officers are currently piloting them.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

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