OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole had a simple message on Monday for candidates and supporters who deny the party has changed its policy on guns: he's in charge.
O'Toole broke with the party's platform a day earlier, promising to maintain a May 2020 Liberal ban on 1,500 makes of firearms.
However, on Monday morning, Conservative candidate Rob Morrison, who is running in British Columbia's Kootenay-Columbia riding, maintained that the promise to repeal the Liberal ban had not changed.
Asked about that post, O'Toole responded, "I'm the leader."
O'Toole repeated Monday that if elected, he will maintain the Liberal ban, introduced through a cabinet order, while his party conducts a review of Canada's gun classifications system.
"What I committed to is keeping everything in place now, the status quo, so that people know we can focus seriously on public safety and security, actually go after the illegally smuggled firearms, which are the cause of many of the shootings we see in the cities, and have a completely independent public process to fix the classification system," he said.
Questions about the party's gun policy have dogged O'Toole since he said he would maintain a ban on "assault weapons" during a French-language debate Thursday.
O'Toole repeated that statement in the following days while remaining evasive about whether he was talking about the May 2020 cabinet order or 1977 bill that banned fully-automatic weapons, saying on Saturday that voters could look in the party platform to "fill in the blanks."
On Sunday morning, however, he broke with the platform promise to repeal the cabinet order, saying explicitly that he would keep it in place -- though not for how long.
Groups that advocate for stricter gun control say they're not impressed with the change.
In a joint statement, Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and Danforth Families for Safe Communities, said O'Toole's Sunday statement has left them "further alarmed."
"Mr. O’Toole has not committed to maintaining the assault weapons ban, nor has he committed to enshrining the ban in legislation and preparing to buyback the now-prohibited guns," the groups said.
They say they're also worried about a promise in the Conservative platform to consult with gun owners and manufacturers in the proposed review.
"There is no such mention of survivors, physicians, women, anti-hate researchers, scientists, or academics," the groups said.
When asked about the issue, O'Toole said in French that all interested groups would be consulted.
O'Toole has faced criticism from gun control advocates and the Liberal Party for what they allege are close ties with the gun lobby.
O'Toole's campaign manager, Fred DeLorey, is a former lobbyist for the National Firearms Association and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has accused O'Toole of having a "secret deal" with the gun lobby.
But O'Toole said the gun lobby is doing "nothing" for him. "There is zero quid pro quo."
He said he is trying to show Canadians he can "Put public safety first by maintaining restrictions in place, and taking the politics out of classification."
"I don't like to see law-abiding people like farmers and hunters demonised by the Liberal government," he added.
Pro-gun-control groups say they're also worried about O'Toole's promise to repeal Bill C-71, which increased background checks for gun owners, created certain record keeping requirements for gun sellers and tightened gun transportation rules.
On Monday, O'Toole said he supports some elements of that law, including the expanded background checks, but has concerns about the record-keeping requirement, which he described as a "backdoor registry."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press