O'Toole breaks with election platform, pledges status quo on firearm bans

After days of questions about his party's gun policy, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said Sunday he would maintain a Liberal ban on 'assault-style' firearms if he forms government.

"I want to make my position on firearms perfectly clear. First, the ban on assault weapons will remain in place. Second, the present ban on a number of other firearms that were reclassified in 2020 will remain in place," he told reporters in Vancouver.

At a French-language debate on Thursday, O'Toole said he would maintain a ban on assault weapons.

On Friday, a party spokeswoman pointed to the Conservative platform that confirmed O'Toole's promise to axe a 2020 ban on what the Liberal government called "assault-style" weapons while maintaining a prohibition of fully automatic weapons which has been in place since 1977.

O'Toole, however, remained evasive about the party's position, repeating he would maintain the ban on assault weapons and telling reporters on Saturday that people who were confused on his position could look to the party's platform to "fill in the blanks."

That document promises to repeal the Liberal measures, which were introduced through a May 2020 Order in Council and banned some 1,500 firearm models, including the popular AR-15 rifle and the Ruger Mini-14 used to kill 14 women at Montreal's Ecole polytechnique in 1989.

O'Toole's Sunday statements appeared to reverse course on that plan for the time being.

"We're maintaining the status quo that's in place right now," he said, while also leaving the door open for future changes.

O'Toole's comments also included a promise of a "public, transparent" review of Canada's gun classification system, a step he said will depoliticize gun regulation.

"Our intention is to take the politics out of this, because Mr. Trudeau has divided rural versus urban, he has demonized, in some cases, farmers, hunters, sport shooters and actually ignored the real problem of rising smuggling and organized gang activity," he said.

"Assault" or "assault-style" firearms are colloquial descriptions, and what falls into either category is debated among gun users.

The Conservative platform also promises to scrap bill C-71, which expanded background checks for people seeking gun licenses as well as record-keeping requirements for gun sellers.

Asked about whether repealing that bill remains a promise, O'Toole repeated that he would maintain the bans on assault and "assault-style" weapon.

O'Toole made the comments at the end of a pier in downtown Vancouver, where he promised to hire 200 additional RCMP officers to fight gun smuggling, street gangs and illegal drug sales.

Most of those officers would be deployed to the Greater Toronto Area and British Columbia's Lower Mainland, he said, and would work with American agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fight gun smuggling.

"We have Liberal and NDP candidates who are running in this election who think we need to defund the police. I couldn't disagree more. We need more police officers, not fewer," he said.

After days of relentless questions, Erin O’Toole has flipped on his gun policy.

Now he says he will *keep* the ban on the 2020 assault-style weapons (which the CPC platform states will be repealed).

Reiterates pledge for a public review of classification of firearms.#Elxn44

— Omar Sachedina (@omarsachedina) September 5, 2021

This report from The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.