OTTAWA — A Liberal candidate who accused his main opponent of “fear-mongering” about refugees is distributing Chinese-language materials slamming Conservatives on gun control, using images of semi-automatic firearms and a photo of Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer.
Alan Ho, a Markham city councillor, is vying to unseat Conservative incumbent Bob Saroya in the Toronto-area riding of Markham—Unionville. Ho’s campaign confirmed that they started distributing the two-sided, Chinese-language literature this week.
According to census data, more than half of Markham–Unionville residents identified a Chinese language as their mother tongue. A spokesperson for Ho’s campaign told HuffPost Canada that the flyer reflects concerns about community safety that they’re hearing on doorsteps.
The Liberal campaign literature includes a partisan endorsement from Bill Blair, a former Toronto Police chief and current minister of border security and organized crime reduction.
“From my time as chief of police, I know that the Liberal plan will make our communities safer,” Blair’s testimonial reads.
On the other side, there’s a cropped photo of Saroya pictured with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Ontario Premier Doug Ford. The photo was taken at a Nowruz celebration last year.
Ho’s campaign cropped the photo for use in their version of the campaign literature.
The handout claims in Chinese that “Andrew Scheer’s firearms policies were designed by the gun lobby” and that the Conservatives want weaker gun laws. Images of four semi-automatic rifles draw the eye. “Conservatives will keep these assault weapons on the streets,” it reads.
Despite being a popular term, there’s no legal definition of “assault weapon” in Canada’s firearms legislation.
Conservatives have also been stoking emotions with their own printed materials being distributed in Markham–Unionville.
Saroya also faced criticism this week for mailing campaign literature using inflammatory language by calling irregular border crossers “fake refugees” and “illegal,” according to Global News.
Irregular border crossers are immigrants who enter Canada in between official ports of entry. Those who cross into Canada this way are often arrested, but are also legally allowed to apply for refugee status.
Gun control shaping up to be a wedge issue
Semi-automatic rifles have been involved in some of the worst terrorist attacks in recent Canadian history, including the 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque that saw six people killed and eight injured; and in the 2014 rampage in Moncton, N.B. that killed three RCMP officers and injured two others.
In the Quebec City mosque shooting, evidence presented at trial revealed the gunman used a handgun after a semi-automatic rifle he attempted to use jammed.
Earlier this year, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern introduced a ban on semi-automatic weapons six days after a gunman killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques. In the wake of the tragedy, The Globe and Mail published an editorial urging the federal government to do the same.
Gun control is one of three major policy planks, revealed Sunday, on which Liberals are building their campaign.
Watch: Toronto-area mayors say Liberal gun-control measures don’t go far enough
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has pledged to introduce a buyback program for “all military-style assault rifles legally purchased in Canada.” The Liberals have set aside $400 million over four years to tackle gun-related crimes, including $250 million to support the buyback program.
“Hunters and farmers do not use or need assault weapons,” the platform reads.
Trudeau has also indicated that a re-elected Liberal government would work with provinces and territories to allow municipalities to implement handgun bans. It’s a proposal that some people, including emergency room doctors, city mayors and Conservatives, have called inadequate.
“Rather than going after the violent criminals shooting up our streets, Justin Trudeau is senselessly targeting law-abiding farmers, hunters, and sport shooters,” wrote Conservative party spokesperson Simon Jefferies in an email after being asked to respond to the Chinese-language Liberal campaign literature.
Liberal amendments to the Firearms Act don’t do enough to penalize “criminals who smuggle guns across the border and into Canadian cities,” he added.
“Trudeau’s plan will also force police to target law-abiding citizens, wasting valuable resources and distracting law enforcement from stopping violent criminals,” Jefferies wrote.
Scheer said much of the same during a campaign stop in Toronto on Friday to outline his party’s plan to tackle gang and gun violence.
“There are already many different types of classifications of firearms that are prohibited and others that are restricted.”
He dismissed the urgency for a ban on handgun or semi-automatic and automatic firearms, saying these firearms are already prohibited or restricted under the Criminal Code.
“There are already many different types of classifications of firearms that are prohibited and others that are restricted,” the Conservative leader said before attacking the Liberal plan as one that punishes law-abiding gun owners.
He pledged a Conservative government would work with the Canada Border Services Agency to set up a task force to stem the flow of illegal guns coming in from the United States.
Scheer’s words are consistent with findings of a government consultation report published this year that explored the idea of banning handguns and semi-automatic weapons. Some participants said they instead want to see “enhanced enforcement capacity for law enforcement and border services, as well as harsher punishments for firearms trafficking and gun-related crime.”
Some participants in the report also raised concerns about legal firearms that are used in violent crimes in rural areas and in cases involving domestic violence.
“The strongest supporters of a ban suggested handguns and assault style weapons should not be available to anyone except law enforcement and military,” the report reads.
Trudeau accused Conservatives last month of being “in the pocket of the gun lobby,” despite the country lacking a Canadian equivalent of the National Rifle Association south of the border.
Oshawa, Ont.-based Canadian Shooting Sports Association is one group that is actively campaigning, releasing gun control-related television ads in English and Mandarin. The group was the subject of a Liberal party complaint to Elections Canada last week for violating election ads laws.
The Liberals passed their firearms legislation that amended the federal Firearms Act with a suite of new measures including enhanced background checks. Conservatives have pledged to repeal the changes, saying the changes punish law-abiding gun owners instead of effectively targeting criminals.
Liberals campaigned in 2015 to make handguns and semi-automatic weapons harder for criminals to obtain.