The deadly mass shooting in Nova Scotia “reinforces” the need for stronger gun control in Canada, but it will take some time to ensure legislation is moved forward the right way, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
Trudeau was asked again by reporters in Ottawa Tuesday about a promised firearms bill that he said his government was on the “verge” of tabling before Parliament was suspended last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liberals pledged during the fall federal election campaign to ban so-called “military-style assault weapons” and work with provinces and territories to empower municipalities to outlaw handguns in their jurisdictions.
Watch: ‘Our better tomorrow will come,’ PM says after N.S. shooting
“We’re looking at the right way and the right moment to bring it forward,” he said, when asked if his government would wait for the House of Commons to return to normal sittings or unveil the bill in the restricted Parliament due to the pandemic.
“The tragedy in Nova Scotia simply reinforces and underlines how important it is for us to continue to move forward on strengthening gun control in this country and we will do that at the appropriate time.”
The prime minister said he expects the assault rifle ban to be the “first measures” brought forward because it was almost “ready to go” when members of Parliament were sent home in March.
“As we learn more about this terrible, terrible tragedy in Nova Scotia, we will keep reflecting on ways that we need to help Canadians stay safe in their communities and their homes, and across the country,” he said.
It is not yet clear what firearm or firearms were used by the shooter, and whether they were obtained legally. Trudeau said he trusts the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to release that information “as they feel it is important to.”
But the prime minister pushed back at a reporter’s suggestion he was linking his government’s gun-control push to the rampage, saying it did not “take this tragedy” for Liberals to want to bring in changes.
“This is just another tragic reminder of the fact that we need to do more to keep Canadians safe,” he said.
Conservatives have, in the past, said Liberal proposals to restrict firearms will only punish law-abiding gun owners.
At a press conference in Ottawa Monday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he wants to bring in new legislation as quickly as possible.
“There has been an interruption… as a result of the COVID-19 provisions that have been put in place in Parliament,” Blair said. “But at the very first opportunity, it is my intention to bring forward the measures that will fulfill our commitment to Canadians to strengthen gun control in Canada.”
Blair said work is ongoing on legislation that will mean stricter gun storage rules to prevent firearms from getting into the hands of those who could use them to commit crimes. He said Liberals will bring forward “red flag” laws to keep those who “represent a significant risk to themselves or to others” from obtaining guns.
The minister, who served as Toronto’s chief of police before entering politics, also reiterated the government will “bring forward both regulation and legislation that will enable us to prohibit military style assault weapons.”
And that’s exactly what a group of gun-control advocates — Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, PolySeSouvient, the Coalition for Gun Control, and Danforth Families for Safe Communities — called for Blair to quickly do in a public letter released Monday.
The group said the N.S. tragedy supplanted the original intent of the letter: responding to media reports of an “explosion” in sales of ammunition and guns last month due to the COVID-19 outbreak and talk of looming restrictions.
Gun-control advocates call on Blair to move quickly
In the letter, the group noted that necessary measures to encourage physical distancing to slow the virus’ spread are “increasing the vulnerability of women and children in abusive environments,” and that there are heightened risks of anxiety and depression during a time of great economic and public health uncertainty.
“The scientific evidence demonstrates very clearly the links between access to firearms and the risk of femicide, suicide, and accidental shootings,” it read.
The group also said “misinformation campaigns” about the pandemic raise alarms that far-right groups with a propensity for stockpiling guns, “particularly military-style assault weapons,” could lash out with violence.
“While we appreciate the capacity for substantive policy change is difficult at this moment — and acknowledge your government’s efforts to respond to the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis and resulting consequences — we implore you to take one decisive, achievable action right now: ban the new sale of military style assault weapons,” the letter reads.
Rod Giltaca, the CEO and executive director of the gun lobby group, the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights, released a statement in response Tuesday, accusing the groups of “leveraging” suffering in N.S. for political gain.
“There will be time to debate the details of this event when we know more,” Giltaca said. “Policy decisions affecting all Canadians must be made calmly and rationally. Now is the time to support those affected by this senseless tragedy.”
CORRECTION: This article previously referred to the shootings as the “deadliest mass shooting” in Canadian history. Due to the nature of the victims’ deaths, this is not factual. The story has been updated.