- - Wednesday, September 4, 2019

TORONTO — Who says Canadian elections have to be boring?

With a national vote just weeks away, two candidates of the fledgling pro-gun People’s Party of Canada had to decide this week which of them would represent the party at a local Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce debate in the western province of Saskatchewan. The solution: a live-broadcast shooting contest at a local gun range, and may the best marksman win.

“They’ll settle their difference at the Rifle Shooting Range,” read a Facebook flyer, which featured side-by-side pictures of the rifle-toting, camo-clad rivals.

What could go wrong?

In a country that has long prided itself on its high standards of civility and low levels of violence compared with its southern neighbor, gun rights, individualism and free speech are among the most important values to supporters of the new party. But the upshot of the episode also illustrates the differences in politics of gun ownership in Canada and the U.S.

After rejecting suggestions to solve the matter through a beanbag toss and potato sack race, PPC candidates Mark Friesen and Guto Penteado settled on a Robin Hood-like contest of shooting skills at a gun range run by the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation. They alerted the local press about their plans to broadcast the duel live Monday on Facebook.

“It’s all about promotion. This is bigger than gun rights; it’s about property rights and free speech,” said Mr. Friesen, a tree doctor from Saskatoon.

Mr. Penteado, the PCC candidate in the small city’s other district, grew up on a farm in Brazil and learned hunting from his father. He moved to Canada 17 years ago and fell in love with Saskatchewan’s country culture. A licensed hunter and gun owner, Mr. Penteado said a shootout to decide which candidate goes to the debate would represent “promotion about the good side of guns as a sport because all we see is very bad news about mass shootings, and this is a very bad image for gun owners and the guns themselves.”

“We live in the countryside, we love the nature, we love the interaction with animals and everything like that,” Mr. Penteado told the national CBC news network. “I’m referring to the good connotations about rednecks. We’re not stupid. We’re good rednecks.”

Questioning the ‘message’

The dueling duo’s announcement of a shootout quickly attracted national attention, including coverage from Canada’s biggest media outlets. Not all of the reaction was favorable.

Charles Smith, an associate professor of political studies at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan, told the CBC that the event was insensitive, especially right after another mass shooting in Texas.

Using guns to settle disputes reinforces the message that guns and violence are normal, he told the broadcaster, and “that’s not a message political parties should be sending in 2019.”

The candidates, however, thought the attention was fantastic. So Mr. Friesen was surprised when the provinces’ political reporters who had assembled at the gun range were told Monday that there would be no gunfight at the SWF corral.

Mr. Friesen immediately suspected a conspiracy “behind the scenes.” But Robert Freberg, past president and current fundraising chairman for the local federation that owns and operates the gun range, said the problem wasn’t politics but planning.

The range has a complete ban on photography to protect members’ privacy, Mr. Freberg said. Also, Mr. Friesen’s membership had expired and he announced his event without waiting for permission to hold it, Mr. Freberg said.

“When he phoned and told me he wanted to renew his membership, he thought that was enough,” Mr. Freberg said. “But applications for membership and events go through the board. We tried to handle this in a professional manner and gave him an option to wait. He didn’t do that. At the end of the day, neither man was a member, so they had to stay outside.”

Rod Giltaca is CEO and executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, Canada’s largest advocacy group for firearms owners. The event may not have been completely successful as a publicity stunt but there was nothing wrong with it, he said.

In the United States, this kind of gun issue might have inflamed the national gun debate and grown into a bonfire for politicians. But in Canada, the story barely registered and even the local media didn’t report the winner. Mr. Friesen said he triumphed Wednesday after they relocated to a private farm and each man took five shots with a .22 rifle at a target 75 to 100 yards away.

Mr. Giltaca said his organization has few parallels with the National Rifle Association. The regulatory system in Canada is “very different from the United States,” and the constitution provides no right to gun ownership.

As a result, the Canadian group represents a broad-based membership, he said, and reasons for buying guns are different.

Americans buy guns for self-defense, but in Canada that is discouraged as a valid reason for a gun permit, he said.

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