Canada’s Conservative Party, which holds a slim lead in a tight electoral race, is facing mounting criticism for its stance on gun control after the Conservatives pledged to overturn a 2020 ban on some “assault-style” weapons.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has been pressed repeatedly this week over his campaign promise to overturn last year’s prohibition on weapons such as the AR-15, which was used by a gunman to kill 26 adults and children in the Sandy Hook massacre in the United States in 2012.
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O’Toole declined to answer the questions directly, noting he plans to keep a separate 1977 ban on assault rifles.
“Erin O’Toole is willing to say anything to Canadians to get elected. He lied to Canadians about his plans to scrap the Liberal ban on assault weapons,” the Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said in a statement on Saturday.
Every question from reporters to Erin O'Toole today, so far, is pressing him for clarity on whether he'd repeal prohibition on certain firearms used in mass killings in Nova Scotia, Quebec City and Montreal. So far, no clear response.
— Glen McGregor (@glen_mcgregor) September 4, 2021
Gun control is a sensitive issue in the country, especially in the French-speaking province of Quebec, where several deadly mass shootings have taken place over the past decades.
In the aftermath of a deadly attack in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia last year, Trudeau in May announced a ban of more than 1,500 models and variants of “assault-style” firearms, including the AR-15.
“You do not need an AR-15 to take down a deer,” Trudeau said at that time. “So, effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import or use military-grade, assault weapons in this country.”
Liberal governments have over the years tightened gun control laws in Canada, but some conservative voters complain the measures are too restrictive and needlessly penalise farmers and hunters.
On Saturday, O’Toole told reporters in Vancouver that it was “very upsetting to see Mr Trudeau trying to import American-style politics, particularly on an issue of public safety”.
A big problem is weapons being smuggled in from the United States, said O’Toole, who is also promising a review of how weapons are classified as dangerous in Canada.
But the Conservatives’ position has been met with criticism not only from their Liberal rivals, but from gun control advocates, as well.
“Erin O’Toole is lying to Canadians when he says he will maintain ‘the ban’ on assault weapons,” said PolyRemembers, an advocacy group founded in the aftermath of a 1989 mass shooting at an engineering school in Montreal that killed 14 women.
In a statement on Friday, the group accused O’Toole of “playing with semantics” and failing to answer reporters’ questions about his party’s stance on the 2020 weapons ban.
“He’s talking about the decades-old ban on fully automatic weapons, knowing full well that reporters’ questions referred to the recent 2020 prohibitions. What he is doing is mirroring the gun lobby’s tactic of playing with semantics in order to avoid defending the indefensible,” it said.
The Liberal leader, who had hoped his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic would lead the party to a renewed majority in parliament, has also faced large crowds of anti-masking and anti-vaccine protesters on the campaign trail.
An Ekos poll on Saturday found the Conservatives had 35 percent support, compared with 28.8 percent for the Liberals and 19.6 percent for the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), headed by Jagmeet Singh.
CBC’s Poll Tracker, which aggregates public polling data in Canada, had the Conservatives with 34.1 percent support as of Saturday morning, while the Liberals held 31.2 percent and the NDP had 20.1 percent.