Amid days of pressure to clarify his party’s stance on gun control legislation in Canada, the leader of the country’s Conservative Party has pledged to maintain a 2020 ban on some firearms if elected later this month.
Speaking during a news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Erin O’Toole said the Conservatives would keep in place a prohibition on some “assault-style” weapons that was imposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government in March of last year.
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That contradicts the Conservatives’ election platform, which says the party plans to repeal last year’s ban.
“We will maintain the assault weapon ban and maintain the 2020 restrictions put in place – full stop,” O’Toole told reporters. “We will then have an independent review – public – of our classification system. That’s what people need.”
Trudeau’s Liberal Party, which is trailing the Conservatives in most recent polls ahead of the September 20 election, has sought to make gun control a wedge issue in the final weeks before the vote.
There is no good reason for anyone in this country to own a military-style assault rifle. Not one. That’s why we banned them.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 5, 2021
Passed in the aftermath of a deadly attack in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia last year, Trudeau in May 2020 announced a ban of more than 1,500 models and variants of “assault-style” firearms.
It includes 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, and the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, which a gunman used to kill 14 women at a Montreal engineering school in 1989.
On Sunday, the Liberals pledged to strengthen existing gun restrictions in Canada.
“We’ve already banned military style-assault rifles. Now, we’ll make it mandatory for gun-owners to either sell those banned firearms back to the government or make them permanently inoperable,” the party said on Twitter, among other promises.
Liberal governments have over the years tightened gun control laws, but the Conservatives say such measures are too restrictive and needlessly penalise farmers and hunters.
O’Toole has accused Trudeau of bringing a divisive, US-style gun control debate to Canada, and said on Sunday that a Conservative government would “take the politics out of decisions” on firearms classifications.
Gun control advocates have raised alarm about the Conservative Party’s position, however, accusing O’Toole of “playing with semantics” and evading questions from reporters asking him to clarify his stance.
CBC’s Poll Tracker, which aggregates publicly available polling data, showed the Conservatives with 34 percent support as of Sunday morning compared with 31.3 percent for the Liberals. The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) was in third with 20 percent.