Doctors, health workers urge political action on gun control at Liberal event

Justin Trudeau

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says the direction the federal government will take on guns is a clear distinction between his party and the Conservatives.

``The Conservative politicians want to weaken gun control where we want to strengthen gun control; that is at the heart of the choice that Canadians are facing in this upcoming election,'' Trudeau said in Toronto today after a meeting with health-care professionals about his gun-control plan.

The Liberal plan includes outlawing the semi-automatic AR-15, a variety of gun used in many recent U.S. mass shootings, as well a buy-back program for legally purchased assault rifles.

Trudeau met with doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, who used his campaign stop in Toronto today to offer poignant and forceful testimonials about the impact of rising gun violence.

Many of them backed gun-control laws, saying restricting access to firearms is one way to stop the rising flow of bloodied patients to their trauma centres.

It's a top-of-mind issue in a city where, according to Toronto police data, 342 shooting incidents have occurred this year alone, 29 of them deadly.

Among the speakers was Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon who helped treat victims of a mass shooting in Toronto's Danforth neighbourhood last summer that killed two young people and wounded 13 more.

She spoke of the need for massive blood transfusions in the first 24 hours of treating shooting victims, followed by many, many operations, and the life-long impact of shootings on patients and those around them.

``They spend weeks and weeks in the ICU, their lives hanging in the balance, their families at their bedsides. We doctors walk past them, trying to give them hope,'' said Ahmed.

``Doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals who treat these patients see it as our responsibility to inform you of our lived experience so that you can make better decisions on behalf of all Canadians.''

The Liberals have stressed working with provinces and territories to allow municipalities to further restrict or ban handguns, while at the same time denouncing Ontario Premier Doug Ford,  who has said he opposes a prohibition on handgun sales.

Trudeau acknowledged he has not spoken with Ford since the election call on Sept. 11.

The Conservatives fired back at Trudeau Monday, saying he ``has failed to the address gang problem that has been steadily growing over the last four years.''

The party also cited Liberal resistance to more tough-on-crime laws for gun smugglers.

Some gun-control advocates say an assault-rifle ban does not go far enough, and that letting cities decide on whether to ban weapons could lead to a piecemeal system that fails to stop the bloodshed.

Dr. Suzanne Shoush, a family physician at St. Michael's Hospital who took part in the discussion Monday, said a handgun ban, even if Trudeau were to take that extra step, would be ``a good first step.''

``I think that this is a public-health crisis,'' Shoush said. ``But having funding reach communities in ways that are meaningful are critically important.''

The Liberal platform, unveiled Sunday, commits $400 million in new funding over four years to tackle gun crime, while $500 million is slated for ``learning to camp.''

Another Liberal platform plank aims to ``limit the glorification of violence'' by changing how firearms are marketed and sold, which includes advertisements.

``If you look at them, they all seem to imply that we all can be G.I. Joe on our main street,'' Liberal platform committee co-chair Ralph Goodale said Sunday.

Goodale, the Liberals' minister of public safety, said he is undertaking stakeholder consultations. ``It's a concern that needs to be addressed with a regulatory framework.''

Trudeau's forum at the Sheraton hotel was interrupted Monday morning by a sign-toting demonstrator criticizing Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia, among other undemocratic regimes.

``Canada is the sixth-largest producer and exporter of weapons, including to Saudi Arabia,'' said Barry Weisleder, whose sign called Trudeau a warmonger.

Weisleder is part of the unofficial ``NDP socialist caucus'' and has complained that the New Democrats wouldn't let him seek the party nomination in Toronto's University-Rosedale riding.

Trudeau has faced pressure from civil-society groups to update Canadians before the Oct. 21 election on his government's review of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Liberals launched a review of the $15-billion contract to ship light-armoured vehicles to the Middle Eastern kingdom last fall after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Weisleder, an activist critical of Canadian foreign policy, ran as a New Democrat in Ontario's 2011 provincial election before being dropped on the first day of the campaign because, the NDP said, he did not accurately fill out his nomination form.