Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole directly contradicted his own party’s platform at the French-language debate on Thursday night and again Friday morning, saying he wouldn’t repeal a Liberal ban on assault rifles.
The Conservative platform promises to “start by” walking back Liberal amendments to the Firearms Act, which beefed up background checks and tightened restrictions on firearm vendors and owners. It also promises to repeal a Liberal executive order from May of last year, which banned 1,500 “military-style assault rifles.”
While terms like “assault-style” and “assault rifle” are not legal classifications in Canada, they are frequently used colloquially by gun control advocates and the government to describe the type of high-capacity, quick-fire guns targeted by the ban.
Still, despite this explicit promise, O’Toole said he would not repeal the assault rifle ban when he spoke at Thursday’s debate — and again at a press conference Friday morning.
And when pressed by Global News, his team would not explain what assault rifle ban the Conservative leader was talking about. However, a spokeswoman for the party confirmed to The Canadian Press that O’Toole was referring not to the May 2020 ban but the prohibition of full-fledged “assault weapons” decades ago.
This was a distinction that O’Toole did not make to multiple reporters, debate viewers, nor to Global News — despite being repeatedly asked about it on Friday. Both the debate and the subsequent media questions about his comments were clearly referring to the 2020 Liberal assault rifle ban.
“We will maintain the ban on assault weapons,” O’Toole said when pressed on his comments Friday morning.
“And we will make sure that we work with police and we work to make sure there’s a transparent process to keep people safe and to make sure that we tackle rising gun violence.”
In a since-deleted tweet, Conservative candidate Dan Albas claimed that assault rifles have been “long banned” in Canada — implying they were banned before Trudeau’s government outlawed 1500 assault-style rifles.
Some gun proponents took to social media to hint what O’Toole’s team told The Canadian Press — that he intends to keep his promise to repeal the 2020 executive order, and is instead referring to a 1977 law that banned fully automatic firearms, which no one has discussed repealing.
“O’Toole gamed Trudeau hard by vowing not to repeal the actual assault rifle ban from 1977. Delicious,” wrote Tracey Wilson, who is the Vice President of Public Relations for the pro-gun group Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights.
While the 1977 law did ban fully automatic firearms, it did not ban many weapons that have since fallen under the colloquially-used term “assault rifle,” which has no firm definition.
Global News pressed O’Toole’s team multiple times to determine whether the ban he promised to keep in place was the Liberals’ 2020 ban, or the 1977 fully automatic firearms ban. Despite multiple emails from Global News, they did not answer the question.
“Are you referring to the 1977 ban on automatic weapons, which doesn’t cover everything that has been classified as an assault-style weapon (which has no firm legal definition), and that’s what you’re keeping in place? Or are you referring to the May 2020 OIC?” Global News asked in the email.
“Nothing to add to what’s below,” Tucker replied, referring back to an earlier statement that said they “would not repeal the ban on assault weapons” — but not defining what ban that is.
However, Wilson took to Twitter and told Global News that O’Toole’s team was indeed referring to the 1977 ban. That means they’d still be repealing the May 2020 executive order banning 1500 more guns.
“The assault rifle ban (1977) is one thing. The 2020 “assault/military STYLE” ban is a different thing. He’s keeping the first one,” Wilson tweeted.
She added that this is “exactly what (O’Toole’s) team told” her.
“If you pay close attention he says ‘assault rifle ban’. Never says ‘assault style rifle’ ban. They’re two different things,” Wilson said.
Global News has asked the Conservatives to confirm Wilson’s claim.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau attacked O’Toole over his about-face in the TVA French-language debate Thursday night. He pointed out the Conservative platform point pledging to repeal the Liberal assault rifle ban — but O’Toole interrupted, stating “that’s not the case.”
“It’s written on page 90 of your platform, you should read page 90 of your platform,” Trudeau fired back, speaking in French.
“You say you’ll bring assault rifles back to Canada.”
But O’Toole held firm in the changed position.
“We will maintain a ban on assault rifles,” he said.
Trudeau then accused O’Toole of making contradicting promises to different voters.
“You’re in the process of seeing Mr. O’Toole saying one thing to one person, to Quebecers, and something else to everyone else,” Trudeau said.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Trudeau continued to slam the
The Conservative platform, in addition to promising to repeal the very order in council containing the ban that O’Toole has now pledged to keep in place, also promises to undertake a review of the Firearms Act. The Tories say they’ll talk to law enforcement, firearms owners, manufacturers and members of the public in the process.
“We will then update legislation by introducing a simplified classification system and codifying it in law,” the platform reads.
The Liberal platform, meanwhile, promises to toughen up laws on banned assault weapons “by making it mandatory for owners to either sell the firearm back to the government for destruction and fair compensation or have it rendered fully and permanently inoperable at government expense.”
They also say they’ll crack down on high-capacity magazines, ban the sale or transfer of magazines that can hold an illegal number of bullets, and set aside $1 billion to support the provinces or territories that want to put in place a handgun ban.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was asked about O’Toole’s new position on Friday morning as well, but he did not directly attack O’Toole for his about-face. Rather, he detailed his own party’s position on guns.
“Our goal is to keep people safe, and that means to remove those sorts of weapons from Canada entirely, which includes a buyback programme so that they’re not in our country anymore,” he said.
“The Liberals and the Conservatives aren’t clear on this. They haven’t been clear, and our position is very clear. We’ve got to do whatever it takes to make sure we keep people safe. And there are certain weapons that should not be in circulation in Canada.”
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly