Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising tougher gun-control measures, but will not say what they are until the Liberal Party releases its campaign platform this fall.
Although Mr. Trudeau did not reveal the exact measures to be proposed, he said at a joint news conference with Toronto Mayor John Tory on Tuesday that the Liberals intend to go further in “strengthening gun control.” The lead federal minister on the file, Bill Blair, has raised the possibility of prohibiting some assault weapons that are currently legal, albeit highly restricted.
Rising gun violence in cities such as Toronto is expected to be an issue in the Oct. 21 general election.
On another matter, Mr. Trudeau refused to immediately release a report by former cabinet minister Anne McLellan in the aftermath of the SNC-Lavalin affair, saying he will wait for the Ethics Commissioner to conclude a separate investigation. Ms. McLellan was asked last March whether the roles of the attorney-general and the minister of justice should be separated to prevent political interference in federal prosecutions.
In the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to “take action to get handguns and assault weapons off our streets.” A Liberal bill was signed into law earlier this year that included some measures, such as enhanced background checks and a requirement for retailers to keep records on each gun sale. It did not have anything specific about handguns.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau said more work needs to be done.
“We look forward to the next time that Parliament is sitting – hopefully under a Liberal government – where we will be able to introduce further measures to strengthen measures against guns,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister’s words were disconcerting to Heidi Rathjen, who runs Poly Remembers, a gun-control advocacy group created in remembrance of the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal. She thinks the government isn’t moving fast enough to limit access to handguns and assault weapons.
“It’s regretful, to say the least, that [the Liberal government] hasn’t delivered any concrete measure regarding access to these weapons while in power, and are now asking Canadians to wait for a new promise,” she said.
Toronto has recorded more than 400 shooting victims this year, up from 336 at this time last year. The number of fatal shootings, however, has gone down. Twenty people have been killed by gunfire so far this year, compared with 30 at this time last year.
Mr. Tory made it clear the city wants Ottawa to make additional investments to help children and families in neighbourhoods affected by recent shootings.
“We have to address the root cause of gun violence and get much tougher on criminals who often laugh at things like bail and sentencing practices. People are expecting us to do more together,” he said.
In addition to new gun-control measures, Mr. Trudeau said that fighting gun violence requires investments in local infrastructure such as a new community centre planned for Lawrence Heights, a Toronto neighbourhood that has had numerous shootings this summer. He said Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is refusing to fund its portion of the project.
“We know investing in people rather than cutting services is the way we need to move forward for the people of Toronto, for community safety, for opportunities for kids right across the country and that’s exactly what we’re going to continue to do,” he said.
Ivana Yelich, spokeswoman for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, said the project is going through the processes to receive funding from all levels of government.
"It’s pretty obvious what [Mr. Trudeau’s] strategy is," she said. “It’s just to campaign against the Premier rather than his actual opponent. [What the Prime Minister said] was incredibly misleading, and some of it was actually false.”
On Ms. McLellan’s report, Mr. Trudeau said he will not make it public until the Ethics Commissioner releases the findings of a separate investigation into the SNC-Lavalin controversy. It is not known when Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion will be finished, casting doubt on whether the two reports will be out before the Oct. 21 general election.
Ms. McLellan was asked last March to recommend whether the government should separate the roles of the attorney-general and the justice minister.
The request came after former attorney-general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she endured months of political pressure to direct federal prosecutors to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin. The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, had declined to do so, and Ms. Wilson-Raybould refused to use her authority as attorney-general to order one.
The attorney-general is the government’s top legal adviser, while the justice minister is a member of cabinet.
“We have provided that report to the Ethics Commissioner to allow the Ethics Commissioner to finish his own investigation, and we will be releasing the report at the same time as the Ethics Commissioner makes his report public,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The Conservatives have said there is no reason to delay releasing the McLellan report.