TORONTO — A Toronto doctor bluntly told Justin Trudeau at a Liberal campaign event Monday that he has the “wrong approach” to keeping handguns off the streets.
Trudeau hosted a discussion at the Sheraton Centre Hotel with several healthcare professionals and trauma care workers on the issue of gun violence. Liberals have promised to ban all military-style assault rifles, such as the semi-automatic AR-15, and work with provinces and territories to empower municipalities to bar or further restrict handguns.
Watch: Doctors, health workers urge political action on gun control
Early on during the event, Trudeau asked Dr. Joel Lexchin — an emergency physician with more than three decades of experience — if he has seen the frequency and intensity of gun violence “evolve” over the years.
Lexchin responded by saying the Liberal proposals on handguns don’t go far enough.
“While I appreciate the efforts that your government has announced, I think that the idea of letting cities ban handguns is the wrong idea,” he said.
Some provincial leaders are “not going to accept” the proposals, Lexchin said, and he suggested it makes no sense if one city bans handguns when other nearby municipalities do not. If Toronto bans handguns and Mississauga does not, Lexchin suggested by way of example, Torontonians will simply travel to Mississauga to buy firearms.
“I think that’s the wrong approach. I think that what the federal government needs to do is show leadership and do a national ban on handguns,” he said.
Watch the exchange at around the 6:00 mark of this video from CPAC:
Trudeau responded that Liberals are also proposing measures on “controlling bulk purchases and making sure handguns don’t end up on the street as much as we possibly can.” Liberals have pledged that, if re-elected, they will ask the RCMP to create a program to flag bulk purchasing to prevent legal firearms from entering the illegal market.
“There are lots of people who would like us to go further and I hear you on that,” Trudeau said.
Earlier, Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital, said she was on call the night of the 2018 shooting in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood, where two people were killed and 13 others were wounded.
“I ask all of our elected officials to understand that harm, injury and death from guns is a preventable public health crisis and that legislative action is necessary,” she said.
Ahmed urged that Canada follow the examples of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom to dramatically crack down on “the proliferation of guns” in Canada.
Earlier: 2018 was a deadly year for Toronto gun violence. Story continues after the video.
According to Toronto police data, 340 shooting incidents have occurred this year alone, 28 of them deadly.
Later, the Liberal leader was asked by a reporter why he is not heeding the call of advocates who want a full, national handgun ban.
“We are putting forward the strongest measures around gun control that Canada has seen in many, many years because we know that stronger gun control is something that our communities need, something Canadians need, something Canadians expect to keep themselves and their families safe,” he said.
Trudeau noted that federal Conservatives have promised to repeal the gun-control measures Liberals passed in the previous Parliament that, among other things, brought in enhanced background checks.
“The choice for Canadians is crystal clear. Liberals will strengthen gun control. Conservatives will weaken gun control.”
A reporter also noted that Ontario Premier Doug Ford has previously said he is opposed to banning handgun sales in cities.
Ford is largely keeping out of the federal election campaign, despite Trudeau invoking his name at most campaign events. But the Ontario premier said in August 2018 that a handgun ban would punish “the good guys” — responsible firearms owners — when resources should instead be directed at targeting criminals.
Trudeau said that perspective is “something that we’ve been unfortunately seeing right across the country” from conservative politicians.
“And that is at the heart of the choice that Canadians are facing in this upcoming election. Do we strengthen gun control in a way that will keep cities, communities and Canadians safer or do we weaken gun control?”
Advocates push Trudeau to do more
PolySeSouvient, a group that pushes for tougher gun laws, said in a release almost two weeks ago that it was “mostly happy but also disappointed” by Liberal promises on gun control. Though the group praised the commitment to ban assault weapons, it was dissatisfied with the approach to handguns.
“The intent to hand over responsibility for further restrictions to municipalities is a disappointment,” the group said in its release. “As we’ve repeatedly said, banning handguns in some but not all municipalities would not only be inadequate, considering the risks involved, but it would also be inefficient.”
There is a “glaring disaster” in the United States resulting from “a patchwork of state and local gun laws,” where handguns transit from one jurisdiction to the next, the organization said.
Trudeau unveiled the Liberal gun policy in Toronto on Sept. 20, when his campaign was badly rocked by revelations that he wore brownface and blackface in his past. He made the announcement in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood.
Ken Price, whose daughter Samantha was shot in the rampage, told The Canadian Press that the families affected by that shooting don’t think the proposed measures go far enough.
“If you don’t ban handguns now, you’ll pay for it later. Handguns don’t really belong in the hands of private citizens,” Price said.
Wedge issue with Tories
Liberals have used gun control as a wedge issue with Conservatives throughout the campaign. Just days into the start of the campaign, Trudeau charged that Tories were “in the pocket of the gun lobby.”
Conservative spokesperson Simon Jefferies told HuffPost Canada at the time it was unclear who Trudeau was referring to with his claim.
“Is it hunters? Farmers? Sports shooters?” Jefferies wrote in an email, adding that Scheer and the party ”will always stand up for law-abiding, responsible firearm owners.”
Conservatives have said a blanket handgun ban will “only make criminals out of law-abiding firearms owners.”
Liberals also released an ad last week featuring Liberal candidate Bill Blair, a former Toronto chief of police. In the 30-second spot, Blair says the “presence of a gun in a dangerous situation can make it deadly” and warns Tories won’t “do what needs to be done.”
A video-version of the ad shows several Conservative candidates firing guns in what appears to be a safe, legal fashion.
Tories responded online by sharing a clip of Liberal candidate Ron McKinnon firing a weapon at a gun range.
“Wonder why he didn’t make it into Justin Trudeau’s desperate attack ad?” the party asked on Twitter.
With files from The Canadian Press