Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is reversing course on a platform promise to overturn a ban on some 1,500 makes and models of what the government describes as “military-grade weapons.”
The Liberal government first introduced the ban with an Order in Council in May 2020, which the Conservative platform promised to repeal.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, O’Toole said that the ban will now remain in place under a Conservative government while a public review of the firearm classification system is conducted.
“It’s critically important for me to say to Canadians today that we are going to maintain the ban on assault weapons, we’re going to maintain the restrictions that were put in place in 2020,” he said.
When O’Toole was asked what he would do if the review recommended the 2020 ban should be scrapped, he didn’t directly answer the question, instead saying the review would be a way to “bring the politics out” of gun control.
“We should have a public discussion of difficult issues related to public safety, and it should not be politicized,” he said.
WATCH: O’Toole reverses party position on firearms, will keep Liberal ban
O’Toole’s reversal comes as the Liberals have been looking to make gun violence and gun control a wedge issue.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau used a media availability on Sunday to tout his party’s plan to strengthen gun-control measures, which includes a buy-back program for barred firearms and a promise of $1 billion to support provinces and territories that implement handgun bans.
Trudeau used much of his prepared remarks to take aim at O’Toole for his party’s position on gun control.
“Community safety is not up for negotiation with the gun lobby, and you certainly don’t hand them the pen to write your platform,” Trudeau said, referring to the Conservative leader.
Ontario Liberal Candidate Bill Blair said after O’Toole’s press conference that the Conservative leader was being deceitful with his reversal and accused him of setting up the review so that the gun lobby would eventually get its way.
The Conservative platform says the review will consult “law enforcement, firearms owners, manufacturers, and members of the public.”
“Erin O’Toole stands apparently for everything, and therefore for nothing,” Blair said.
Just on Saturday, O’Toole defended his original plan to rescind the order saying it unfairly targeted law-abiding gun owners such as hunters and sports shooters.
When pressed by reporters on why the sudden change in policy occurred, O’Toole accused Trudeau of “misleading” Canadians while reiterating that the ban will remain in place if the Conservatives form a government.
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Sheldon Clare the president of the National Firearms Association said O’Toole hadn’t reversed his position on the May 2020 restrictions at all.
“I am confident that Mr. O’Toole is a consistent stalwart person who is going to stand by what he has said,” Clare told CBC News.
The Conservatives are promising tougher criminal sanctions on gun-toting gang members and gun smuggling.
The Liberal government had already introduced legislation in February that would introduce a voluntary buy-back program, but the bill didn’t make it past the first reading in the House of Commons.
The Liberals are now promising to make the program mandatory, with the option of having guns made permanently inoperable at government expense.
Trudeau was pressed Sunday on why he is promising to allocate $1 billion to provinces and territories that want to implement a handgun ban in their jurisdictions rather than implementing a national ban.
At a similar Liberal event with GTA mayors during the 2019 campaign, a reporter asked all the mayors — including leaders from major Toronto-area communities such as Mississauga and Markham — to raise their hands if they’d support a national ban on handguns. They all did.
On Sunday when asked why he was punting the decision to other jurisdictions, Trudeau avoided the question and instead went after O’Toole for wanting to repeal the 2020 ban.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party favours the ban on assault-style weapons but accused both the Conservatives and Liberals of not doing enough.
“Erin O’Toole has not been clear about his stance. The only thing Justin Trudeau has been clear about is that he would rather talk about guns in an election than come up with effective solutions when he has the chance,” he said in an emailed statement.