Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is reversing course on a platform promise to repeal 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.
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.
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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The Conservatives are promising tougher criminal sanctions on gun-toting gang members and gun smuggling.
O'Toole has also said he would maintain a ban on "assault weapons" referring to a 1977 legislative change that classified fully automatic weapons as "prohibited" firearms.
But Trudeau said O'Toole was misleading Canadians with that assertion, noting that their order in council covers "military-style" weapons that aren't considered fully automatic, but some of which have been used in mass shootings such as the 2017 Quebec City Mosque massacre.
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.
Speaking in Ottawa Sunday morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party favours the ban on assault-style weapons.
Singh said governments need to listen to communities hit by violence, including the families of the École Polytechnique shooting victims, who have been demanding tougher laws and a buy-back program.
"That's what Mr. Trudeau promised to do but has not yet done," he said in French.
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