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Justin Trudeau listens to a reporter's question during a press conference in Vancouver, on Friday November 23, 2012.

Justin Trudeau defends his pronouncement of the federal gun-registry as a failure by saying it was so divisive that the Conservative government had no problems getting rid of it.

And Mr. Trudeau is apparently not alone among Liberal leadership contenders in taking that position.

Marc Garneau, the Montreal MP and former astronaut who also has his sights set on the party's top job, told reporters on Monday that he would not have characterized gun ownership as "part of the culture of Canada" as Mr. Trudeau did during a campaign stop in eastern Ontario late last week.

"But the long-gun registry had a lot of very good points and some bad points," said Mr. Garneau.

"On the good side it was supported by the great majority of police associations in the country, by the RCMP, by victims groups and by many others," he said. "On the other side of the coin, it was opposed by many Canadians in rural communities in this country. There is no question about it. It was an extremely divisive issue. It's gone now, the Conservatives have killed it. Let's move on to other things. It's not my intention to spend more money to bring it back."

Mr. Garneau went on to say his priorities as a leader would be to introduce measures to protect Canadians including more severe penalties for gun crimes.

Mr. Trudeau raised eyebrows with his denunciation last Friday of the gun registry which was created by a Liberal government 1995 following the 1989 massacre at Montreal's École Polytechnique and which the Liberals voted unanimously to preserve when the Conservative government eliminated it earlier this year.

Speaking to reporters in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, south of Montreal, on Monday, Mr. Trudeau said he voted to keep the firearms registry in the past and, if there was a vote tomorrow, he would do so again.

But "the definition of a failed public policy is a policy that gets eliminated when governments change," he said. "You can't talk about success because it doesn't exist any more. It was able to be eliminated. Therefore it was a failed public policy, unfortunately."

Like Mr. Garneau, Mr. Trudeau said he is now focused on keeping streets safe. "Whether you are in rural areas or urban areas, I truly believe that there is a way to bring Canadians together and reduce or eliminate – eventually – gun violence," he said. "The way we do that is not by dividing but by coming together on these policies that we do share."

Politicians of other parties were quick to jump on what they perceived as a flip flop in Mr. Trudeau's position, accusing him of pandering to different groups in his attempts to become Liberal leader.

NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said Monday that he was in Quebec over the weekend, "and there was some discussion about which version of Trudeau they are seeing now."

And Public Safety Minister Vic Toews used the social networking site Twitter to say Mr. Trudeau "says one thing in rural Canada, another in the House."

Bob Rae, the interim leader of the Liberals, said the party has been very clear in its support of the registry and believes it was a mistake to get rid of it.

"Life would be so dull if I woke up every morning and there were no issues in front of me," Mr. Rae replied with a grin when asked if Mr. Trudeau's comments were problematic. "So no, it's not a problem for me at all. Candidates are going to say all kinds of different things."

It's not the first time that Mr. Trudeau's comments have caused controversy. Last month, he apologized for statements he made in a 2010 interview where he blamed Canada's problems on Albertans controlling the agenda. He later explained that he was talking about the government of Stephen Harper and not Albertans in general.

With reports from Jill Mahoney and Chris Hannay