TORONTO — Liberals have launched a new Chinese-language ad in the last week of the election campaign to challenge Conservative accusations that leader Justin Trudeau has a plan to legalize hard drugs.
The ads, authorized by the Liberal Party, show screengrabs of a Globe and Mail story and a Vancouver Sun column about the misleading online Chinese-language campaign. Images of the ads the Conservatives have been using are stamped with a Chinese character meaning “fake.”
Conservatives are standing by their ad campaign.
“If Justin Trudeau tells us precisely when he is going to legalize dangerous drugs we will amend our advertisements to reflect this new information,” spokesperson Simon Jefferies told HuffPost Canada on Thursday.
Jefferies referred to a Global News interview last month of Trudeau stating that Liberals are “not looking at full decriminalization at all right now.”
Conservatives have been pressing Liberals with the claim for weeks, stoking anti-drug fear-mongering. The party placed their own Chinese-language ads in the same network of digital smart screens installed at Asian businesses in the Toronto area — a battleground region rich with federal seats.
They are syndicated by Scarborough, Ont.-based Capital Green Tech & Trade Corp., in partnership with Taoping Inc., a Shenzhen advertising company that supplies display terminals.
“Justin Trudeau has a plan to legalize hard drugs!” the Conservative ad reads.
Another slide shows an image of Bill C-460, tabled in the dying days of the last parliament by a Liberal MP. The bill was intended to reduce barriers to opioid addiction treatment.
Chinese text superimposed over the image claims “It’s true!” that Liberals are planning to legalize hard drugs. At the bottom of the Chinese-language ad, the characters in red state that Liberals passed it at first reading.
Bills cannot be passed at first reading. There are no votes at this introductory stage.
The bill did not make it through the federal legislative process before the House rose for the summer. It was left as unfinished business on the order paper, then died last month when the election was called, which wiped the parliamentary slate clean.
The ads do not make any mention to the opioid crisis.
Harm reduction advocates have argued that decriminalizing small quantities of illicit drugs is one way to mitigate the crisis, creating conditions to spur addicts to seek help without the fear of facing criminal charges for possession.
More than 12,800 people have lost their lives since January 2016 from apparent opioid-related deaths.
Watch: Trudeau says he’s not looking at legalizing heroin or cocaine. Story continues below video.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly said he doesn’t consider decriminalizing illicit drugs an effective way to address the opioid crisis.
“Recovery programs get people off of addictions so they’re not exposing themselves to dangerous drugs that could possibly be laced with things like fentanyl,” Scheer told reporters at a campaign stop in Brampton, Ont.
“That’s where we’re going to put our investments. Not decriminalizing hard drugs.”
Scheer pledged earlier this year to “hold China accountable” to stem the flow of fentanyl, the illicit synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine that is fuelling the opioid crisis. A Conservative government will add checks on imports from China to crack down on opioids and fentanyl coming into the country, he said.
The government has repeatedly said it would not pursue decriminalization of illicit drugs since Liberal grassroots members passed a policy last year, calling the move a way to address the opioid epidemic as a public health issue. Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told HuffPost in May that efforts have been on addressing unsafe drug supply, not decriminalization.
Tit-for-tat attack ads
A day after Justin Trudeau bemoaned the current election as one of the “dirtiest” and “nastiest” campaigns, the leader was asked if his party’s message accusing Conservatives of wanting to keep assault weapons on the street counts as disinformation.
He told reporters in Trois-Rivières, Que., on Thursday that Liberals “have made the commitment to ban military-style assault weapons across this country. Andrew Scheer has clearly said he will not.”
“Assault weapon” is a popular term used to describe semiautomatic and automatic firearms, but has no legal definition in the federal Firearms Act.
HuffPost Canada reported earlier this month that Liberals printed campaign literature claiming that Conservatives want to keep assault weapons on the street.
“If he [Scheer] wants to ban assault weapons, he can come out today and say that he intends on banning assault weapons,” Trudeau said. “Will he ban assault weapons? If he does, we are happy to withdraw any ads that point out that he doesn’t want to ban assault weapons.”
Gun control is one of the Liberal Party’s three central platform planks. It includes a proposal to ban assault rifles as well as the introduction of a buyback program for “all military-style assault rifles” legally purchased in Canada.
Scheer has said he would repeal the changes brought by the Liberals amendments to the federal Firearms Act, including enhanced background checks. Conservatives have argued the new measures do more to penalize law-abiding gun owners than target criminals and that many semiautomatic and automatic firearms are already prohibited or restricted under the Criminal Code.
The Liberal Party isn’t showing any signs of contrition for its ads.
“Very simply, Liberals would strengthen gun control, while Conservatives would weaken gun laws that make our communities safe,” spokesperson Joe Pickerill wrote in an email.
“We will always make sure our position is clear and available to everyone and contrast that to what the Conservatives are proposing, so Canadians have access to the facts and the choice at hand in this election.”