Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it is "patently ridiculous" to suggest that comments he recently made about guns and the safety of rural Canadians encouraged vigilante justice.
"Gun owners in Canada are not allowed to take the law into their own hands," Harper said Wednesday after an announcement in Mississauga. "Nobody here is suggesting they should be able to do that."
Last week, the prime minister opened up about firearms during a meeting with the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.
"My wife's from a rural area," he said. "Gun ownership wasn't just for the farm, it was also for a certain level of security when you're ways away from police, immediate police assistance."
The next day, Jenni Byrne, the Conservatives' campaign manager, sent a fundraising email lauding Harper's comments linking guns and safety.
"As someone who grew up in a rural part of the country, I was proud to hear what the prime minister had to say," she wrote. "He said that gun ownership is important for safety for those of us who live a ways from immediate police assistance."
Canada's National Firearms Association also praised the prime minister’s statement as "long overdue," Postmedia reports.
However, in Montreal this week, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair called Harper's remarks "irresponsible" and said he was "astonished" the prime minister would suggest Canadians should protect themselves with their own weapons.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard also condemned the comments, telling reporters "the fewer firearms in circulation in the country, the better."
But Quebec intergovernmental affairs minister Jean-Marc Fournier was arguably the most aggressive in denouncing Harper’s words, saying they came close to making it "legitimate" for people to take the law into their own hands.
"My vision of Canada is certainly not to say that Canadians and Quebecers must be encouraged to carry out vigilante justice," he said.
The prime minister said Wednesday that there has been widespread ownership of firearms in different parts of the country — "for various reasons, including security" — without incidents of vigilantism.
"I think where this kind of demagoguery comes up is that people misunderstand the difference between our system in Canada and the system in the United States," he said. "Gun ownership in Canada is a responsibility, unlike the United States, (where) gun ownership is a right."
Harper said that, in Canada, you can only become a gun owner by accepting a range of responsibilities, including a permit. And though his government eliminated the long-gun registry that he deemed "needless and ineffective," the prime minister said nobody in his government is proposing a shift to the American system of easier access.
"The other parties are clearly anti-gun owners, they've made that very clear," he said.
The Tories tabled Bill C-42, the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act, in October. The legislation seeks to ease up restrictions on transporting firearms and give gun owners whose permits have lapsed a six-month grace period to renew.
The bill would also make gun-safety courses mandatory for first-time owners.
In December, Mulcair said a federal NDP government would ensure police can track every firearm in Canada — comments many took to mean he was advocating a revival of the long-gun registry.
NDP MP Charlie Angus later told The Huffington Post Canada, however, that the party had no plans to bring back the registry for "ordinary rifles, shotguns."
Last week, the Tories sent a tweet asking Canadians to sign a petition to say no to another long-gun registry. The tweet seized on comments made by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in 2012 that he would "vote once again to keep the long-gun registry."
However, the Tories left out the second part of the quote where Trudeau said he would not seek to bring the registry back because it was "so deeply divisive."
With files from The Canadian Press
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