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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole appears on the cover of his party's election-campaign document, which it released on Aug. 16.
A new battle over gun policy in Canada began days before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked into Rideau Hall on Sunday, but the Conservative firearm platform released Monday reveals a fundamental difference of opinion that goes back to the Liberal long-gun registry in the early 1990s.
“Our focus will be on keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals,” the Conservatives vow, while listing more than 20 clauses saying how they plan to reverse even a recent legislative move that’s sparked criticism from gun-control advocates, who contend it’s not what the Liberals promised in the last federal election.
In language clearly designed to draw votes from thousands of rural and urban owners of handguns and rifles across the country, particularly in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, the platform makes clear that the plan is in sharp contrast with the one offered by the Liberals, who “have refused to take action against gangs, while harassing hunters and sport shooters.”
A Conservative government would start by repealing Bill C-71, troublesome legislation introduced by the Liberal government in 2019 that’s not yet fully in force, and is intended to re-introduce sales and licence controls over non-restricted rifles and shotguns that the former Conservative government, led by Stephen Harper, eliminated in 2012.
Another top target for repeal by a Conservative government is a cabinet order issued by the government on May 1, 2020, to ban more than 20 makes of restricted military-grade rifles, which was put forward just two weeks after 22 people in Nova Scotia were killed in gunfire and arson attacks.
Those new prohibitions, which affect more than 200,000 rifles, including the infamous AR-15, are still bogged down in a Federal Court challenge filed by gun owners, firearm businesses, and firearm associations.
The Conservatives are also promising to review the Firearms Act, with participation by law enforcement, firearms owners, manufacturers, and members of the public, as well as new legislation with a simplified classification system.
The plan includes automatic surrender of firearms to law enforcement when an individual has been charged with an offence against the person, but law enforcement would be required to return the firearms if the charge is dismissed.
The Firearms Act would be amended to authorize a hospital, mental institute, psychiatric clinic, or medical professional to give notice to a Chief Firearms Officer if the institution or medical professional provides treatment for a mental illness to a person who they believe possesses a firearm and might pose a danger to him- or herself or others.
Until an expired licence is renewed, it would remain illegal for licence holders to acquire new firearms or ammunition by any means.
Under the regulations brought in by the Liberal government, an expired licence would likely prevent a firearm vendor from selling a firearm to a prospective buyer.
The Conservatives would tackle gang violence by hiring an extra 200 RCMP officers to combat gangs and the smuggling of guns and drugs. They’d also bring in mandatory minimum penalties of up to three years for firearm imports outside the authority of the Firearms Act, and up to 10 years for criminal use of firearms, if an individual commits the offence while under a prohibition order.
Before the Conservative platform was released on Monday, one of Canada’s most prominent groups that advocates for gun control slammed the government for launching an advertising campaign touting its efforts to “take action on gun violence” shortly before the election call.
In a statement published Monday, PolySeSouvient, which was founded in the wake of the 1989 mass shootings at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, accused the Liberals of being “completely disingenuous and obviously political.” The group denounced the ad as an “attempt to fool Canadians into believing that the Liberal government has stood up to the gun lobby, and made substantial and concrete progress on gun control.”
The Edmonton-based National Firearms Association (NFA) also had harsh words for the government’s pre-writ self-promotion, which True North News, a conservative online platform, claims cost $2 million.
“Its sole purpose is not to inform, but rather to bolster support for the incumbent government and its policies,” the NFA said in a statement to iPolitics.
“It is propaganda in the purest sense, and the only beneficiary of that propaganda is the Liberal Party of Canada on the eve of a general election. Canadians should not have to pay for that.”
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