Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole appears not to be closing the door to future reclassification of some 1,500 firearms — largely semi-automatic rifles — prohibited under a 2020 Liberal executive order.
During a press conference from the campaign trail on Monday, O’Toole was asked about his promise to “maintain” the reclassification on those firearms, which the Liberals refer to as “assault-style” weapons.
Twice he was asked for how long he planned to keep the reclassification and whether he would still do so even if a promised stakeholder review group recommended reversing the 2020 reclassification.
“I’m not going to pre-judge that process because I should not be running that process. It should be a process that allows for a transparent review to remove the politics out of this,” O’Toole said.
When asked again whether he would prevent those firearms from being downgraded to restricted status based on the work of that review group, O’Toole offered no further clarity.
“I don’t want to pre-judge any process that should be arm’s length,” he said.
Global News contacted O’Toole’s campaign following those remarks, asking for clarification on his comments and whether the campaign would say definitively whether he would rule out future reclassification of the 1,500 firearms covered by the 2020 Liberal executive order.
Chelsea Tucker, director of communications for O’Toole’s campaign, offered a similar statement.
“As Mr. O’Toole said this morning, he won’t prejudge what the outcome of the review will be,” Tucker said in an email to Global News.
Tucker did confirm that the National Firearms Association, a controversial firearms lobby group, “would not be a part of the review group.”
Gun control laws in Canada
There is no right to bear arms in Canada and firearms are classified into three categories: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited.
Automatic weapons have been prohibited since 1977, while roughly 1,500 firearms, including semi-automatic rifles, were moved from the restricted to the prohibited category in 2020.
The Liberals billed the move as targeting “assault,” “assault-style” and “military-grade” firearms — none of which are legal terms in Canada but are frequently used in the U.S. gun control debate to refer colloquially to high-powered, largely automatic firearms.
The term has caused confusion, however, given the lack of a clear definition and different interpretations by the parties of what should constitute an “assault-style” firearm.
O’Toole faced questions last Thursday during the TVA leaders’ debate after he said he would keep the rules in place on assault weapons, despite the Conservative platform vowing to repeal the 2020 Liberal executive order reclassifying hundreds of largely semi-automatic firearms.
That prompted speculation on whether his definition of assault weapons extended to those covered in the 2020 executive order and on Sunday, O’Toole confirmed he would maintain the reclassification.
He has not said, though, for how long he would do so, or how he envisions the review group influencing the classifications in place to date, or any potential changes to them.
O’Toole using ‘coded language,’ Trudeau argues
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Monday accused O’Toole of deliberately keeping his language vague.
“Erin O’Toole was using coded language, weasel words, to try to make his position on military-style assault weapons sound reasonable. It’s not,” Trudeau said, arguing O’Toole is planning “consultations in partnership with the gun lobby.”
Groups that advocate for stricter gun control also say they’re not impressed.
In a joint statement, Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and Danforth Families for Safe Communities said O’Toole’s pledge to keep the executive order in place without saying for how long leaves them “further alarmed.”
“Mr. O’Toole has not committed to maintaining the assault weapons ban, nor has he committed to enshrining the ban in legislation and preparing to buyback the now-prohibited guns,” the groups said.
They say they’re also worried about a promise in the Conservative platform to consult with gun owners and manufacturers in the proposed review.
“There is no such mention of survivors, physicians, women, anti-hate researchers, scientists, or academics,” the groups said.
When asked about the issue, O’Toole said in French that all interested groups would be consulted.
Global News asked Tucker on Monday whether PolySeSouvient, a prominent gun control advocacy group made up of survivors of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, would be included.
No response has yet been received.
—With files from The Canadian Press.