WINNIPEG â€” Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday he chose his words poorly when he said tensions around night hunting are leading to a “race war” but he stopped short of apologizing.
“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 and it’s already cost us lives and it shouldn’t cost us more,” Pallister said.
“I think I used the wrong choice of words, but I was trying to make sure that people understood we’re addressing this issue, and we’re doing it in a real way, by reaching out.”
Pallister told a crowd in Virden, Man., on Jan. 16 that it didn’t make sense to him that young indigenous men were shooting moose at night just because they could.
“This is a poor practice. A dumb practice … It should stop,” Pallister told his audience.
“We’re organizing to bring indigenous people together and say the same thing I just said to ya, ’cause itâ€™s becoming a race war and I don’t want that.”
Pallister’s comments were widely condemned by indigenous leaders and opposition parties. A Supreme Court ruling a decade ago upheld the indigenous right to hunt at night, subject to safety regulations.
Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents northern Manitoba First Nation communities, said Pallister’s comments were hurtful. She has asked for a meeting with the premier.
“He should have met with indigenous leaders beforehand â€” before launching this into a divisive issue,” she said Tuesday.
Pallister said indigenous leaders are among those who want night hunting restricted. Two men have been killed in recent years in night hunting accidents and livestock and buildings have inadvertently been hit by bullets as well, he said.
The Progressive Conservative government has said stepped-up enforcement of laws that ban the use of bright lights to hunt at night resulted in 44 charges in 2016.
It also said there have been 120 charges in the last five years for “night lighting” â€” using bright lights to hunt at night â€” and 77 per cent were against indigenous people.
Pallister’s news conference Tuesday was his first since the controversy over his Jan. 16 comments erupted. He has spent the last 11 days either travelling to and from or at his vacation home in Costa Rica, and was not in the province when six people were shot dead at a mosque in Quebec City on Sunday.
“The fact that I was away, it hurts,” said the premier, who added it’s impossible to know when a tragedy will occur.
“I would like to be on the job all the time, but part of my responsibilities are to my family and I’m going to fulfil those responsibilities, too.”
Pallister has been criticized for his plans to spend several weeks a year at his Costa Rica home. At first he said he would be in the Central American country between six and eight weeks annually, but has since changed his plans to about five weeks.
Pallister received a surprise visit at his vacation home last week by a reporter from Maclean’s magazine, Nancy Macdonald, who quoted him as saying “young indigenous men â€” a preponderance of them are offenders with criminal records â€” are going off shooting guns in the middle of the night.”
Pallister said Tuesday he made no such comment and the reporter did not appear to have a recording device or a notepad while he talked with her.
“I wish that it had been recorded so that I could show you the recording and play it for you.”
Alison Uncles, editor in chief of Maclean’s, said in a written statement Monday that the magazine unequivocally stood behind the article.
“We have read Ms. Macdonald’s notes taken during her interview with the premier and found them to be detailed.”
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press