Hockey players should stay out of politics

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Carey Price learned that lesson last week when he weighed in on the current anti-gun debate roiling in the House of Commons.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on December 12, 2022.

OTTAWA—Hockey players should stay out of politics. Carey Price learned that lesson last week when he weighed in on the current anti-gun debate roiling in the House of Commons.

Poor Price should have stuck to hockey. He is definitely one of the best goalies in the business, but his depth of political knowledge is somewhat limited.

How else to explain the claim by the Montreal Canadiens that Price had never heard of the misogynistic massacre at École Polytechnique?

Their apologetic excuse, subsequently denied by Price, was that the event happened before he was born.

But that poorly-crafted lie inflamed the situation to the point where it even became a main topic for discussion in the Quebec National Assembly.

Price remembers who scored the winning goal in the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series, even though he wasn’t born when it happened. 

Price remembers the famous Montreal Canadiens record-breaking lineup of the Rocket Richard, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, and Jean Béliveau.

But for some reason, Canadian women’s history does not seem to have had the same historical resonance, according to the Canadiens’ management. 

There is nothing wrong with someone weighing in on the facts around gun possession.

As a gun owner, Price was speaking from a place of personal experience. 

But before he decided to become the chief spokesperson for the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, he should have done a little research into the details of the subject.

The ongoing gun violence in Canada’s major cities obviously needs action. But that urban desire for action runs smack into a rural desire to continue recreational hunting and fishing. 

Any political move must balance the wishes of both, unless the government has decided it does not want to elect any rural Members of Parliament. 

Price isn’t the only one who is opposing the current gun amendments.  

The Saskatchewan Party is using the legislation as a fundraising tool, having already launched a protest petition called “Stop the Trudeau gun ban”.

When it comes to gun laws, even some Liberals and New Democrats think the proposed legislation has gone too far.

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus has publicly attacked the government for amendments which include banning approximately half a million widely used hunting rifles that were approved for sale in the last batch of gun amendments. 

“I think they made some serious mistakes with this amendment and they have to fix it” was his blunt assessment of the gun ban extension to semi-automatic SKS rifles.  

Angus is right. Chances are the decision to extend the ban to SKS rifles was made by someone who had no idea of the political uproar it would cause.

The government has always argued that its gun legislation was meant to prevent mass murder, not to criminalize legal hunters. 

Many Canadians have actually purchased the SKS rifles in good faith as they were not on any previous ban list.

But the recommendation by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino that the government should buy back the banned weapons is not going to cut it. 

Instead, the cabinet needs to incorporate some political smarts into its policy-making.

If a key opposition voice like Angus, a northerner with a long and successful political career, can’t stomach the amendments, chances are they need to go.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that the current list of banned guns is being reviewed to ensure that it does not target legitimate gun owners. 

But Price’s inflammatory comments could encourage the government to double down on its position. 

The issue was a public relations fiasco for the Montreal Canadiens, who wrongly issued the original statement that Price did not know of the Polytechnique massacre.

He subsequently reversed that position in a social media post when he said he knew about the massacre of 14 women on Dec. 6, 1989.

On the eve of the anniversary, further outrage was provoked when the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights used the promo code “POLY” for purchasers to secure a 10 per cent discount on arms’ items from its online store. 

Price’s posting gave oxygen to the PolySeSouvient movement, which is lobbying for more limits on guns. 

Gun laws in Canada have proven to be political quicksand for successive governments in the past half century. 

It is impossible to table a piece of legislation which will satisfy both sides of this highly polarized debate.

However, if politics is defined as the art of the possible, the government needs to find a middle ground.

The best new gun law will likely satisfy neither side completely.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.