The Liberals have filed a complaint about advertising by the Canadian Shooting Sports Association during the federal election campaign.
Liberal candidate Adam Vaughan wrote Wednesday to elections commissioner Yves Cote, asking that he investigate nine online videos, produced by the association in English and Mandarin, urging gun owners to vote and warning that their right to own firearms is at stake.
The association says the ads are already running on two television networks.
Any advocacy group that spends more than $500 on political activity during the campaign is required to register as a third party with Elections Canada, which comes with obligations to disclose details about where its money comes from and how it’s being used.
As of Wednesday, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association was not registered, although Vaughan said it would appear to have incurred expenses exceeding $500.
Moreover, he said the videos do not include the legally required tag line identifying who authorized them.
The videos all carry the same message: that gun owners must vote on Oct. 21 to protect their rights. They do not endorse or oppose any specific party or candidate but urge firearms owners to “vote for the candidate who is most likely to defend your rights, not take away your guns.”
The election is “a pivotal point in the future of firearms ownership,” association executive director Tony Bernardo says in one. “If this scares you, good. Because the threat is real.”
“Election 2019 will determine if Canadians can legally own guns or not,” says association director and former Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz in another.
While the Liberals are not mentioned specifically in any of the ads, other videos posted to the association’s website do identify the party as the one gun owners see as threatening their rights.
Last Friday, Justin Trudeau announced that a re-elected Liberal government would ban all military-style assault rifles and give municipalities the power to restrict or ban handguns if they choose. His government had been studying the issue for months prior to the election call.
Bernardo said his group was advised by a sitting MP, whom he wouldn’t name, that the law governing third-party advertising during election campaigns applies only to ads that directly promote or oppose a party or candidate.
“We would not ever have believed that if you were not advocating for a particular party that this kind of stuff would even apply,” he said in an interview, referring to the ads as “non-partisan.”
“Are citizens not allowed to speak their minds anymore?”
Nevertheless, Bernardo said the group is now registering with Elections Canada and will add tag lines to the ads.
“We’ll make it all right. We’ll do everything we should,” he said.
Bernardo wouldn’t say how much the association has spent on the ads but agreed it was more than $500.
Elections Canada guidelines for third parties spell out that “issue advertising” that does not specifically promote or oppose a party or candidate is subject to regulation during a campaign.
“During the election period, election advertising includes advertising that takes a position on an issue that is clearly associated with a candidate or party, without referring to the party, candidate or other actor,” the guidelines say.
Bernardo said the association produced the videos, which have been running for about 10 days, before Trudeau announced the Liberals’ latest gun-control measures. It’s not the association’s fault, he argued, that Liberal candidates no longer fit the association’s recommendation to vote for candidates who’ll protect firearm owners’ rights.
“The Liberals are the ones who threw the gauntlet down, not us.”