O'Toole clarifies gun policy, leaders talk Chinese detention of Canadians on campaign

·4 min read

OTTAWA — Canada's party leaders entered the fourth week of the federal election campaign expressing support for the families of two men who have been detained in China for 1,000 days.

Sunday also saw the Liberals escalate their attacks against Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole over his apparent flip-flop on a platform promise to repeal an "assault-style" firearms ban introduced last year and subject it to a review if he forms government after the Sept. 20 election.

Hours before O'Toole, who has faced days of questions over his firearms policy, made his remarks, Trudeau hit on the issue by championing his government's action on gun control in the Greater Toronto Area.

He promised to tighten measures imposed last year even further by limiting the number of rounds high-capacity gun magazines can hold and providing $1 billion for provinces wishing to ban handguns.

But Trudeau first opened his remarks in Markham, Ont., by acknowledging Sunday was a difficult one for the relatives of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor as they marked the thousandth day of their incarceration in Chinese prisons.

"I can assure you that this government over the past 1,000 days has put forward all the different range of tools that we have to put pressure on the Chinese government to return Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on our allies to influence them and to have them advocate for us," said Trudeau.

"We've been significantly more successful than the previous government was because we use all the tools at our disposal, usually not shouting in the public square. We usually lean in, and put pressure on those countries in various ways to ensure that we can get Canadians home in a way that is quiet and effective."

Chinese officials detained the men out of what Canada believes to be retaliation for the RCMP's arrest of Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 while she travelled through the Vancouver airport.

She was arrested on an extradition request from the United States, where officials want her to be prosecuted for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

On Sunday, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh renewed his calls for Canada to work with its international allies to do everything possible to free the men who have come to be known as "the two Michaels."

"I can't even imagine what that's like for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, for their families, for their loved ones," he said from Ottawa, where he pledged to boost vaccination rates against COVID-19 and change the Criminal Code to provide better protections to health-care workers.

"One thousand days in conditions that have been pretty horrible, not having access to human rights, not having access to the same dignity that you would expect in a criminal justice system here in Canada."

The Liberal government has faced criticism from some over its handling of Kovrig and Spavor's ongoing detentions.

The Conservatives, in particular, have said the Liberals have been soft on their policy towards a more authoritarian China, and promised to take a tougher approach if they win the election.

In his election platform, O'Toole pledges to negotiate new trade agreements with nations in the Indo-Pacific and Africa so Canada doesn't have to rely as heavily on China, as well as work with international allies in hopes of "decoupling" their supply chains from the Chinese regime.

The Conservatives also promise to ban Huawei from Canada's 5G infrastructure and advise universities against partnering with Chinese "state-controlled" companies.

"I've often said China might be much larger in terms of population and economy, but they can learn a lot from us with respect to engagement for human rights, dignity and the rule of law," O'Toole said at a campaign stop in Vancouver.

"Our sanctions would be meant to highlight the fact that the two Michaels are in prison as diplomatic pawns. That is unacceptable for a country that projects itself as a world-leading country. We'd like to push the communist regime to do better."

While campaigning in British Columbia on a promise to put more RCMP officers in communities to combat gangs and drugs, O'Toole clarified that if he forms government, a 2020 ban the Liberals placed on some reclassified firearms would remain in place.

In May 2020, Trudeau's government banned some 1,500 firearm models, including the popular AR-15 rifle and the Ruger Mini-14, used in some of the country's deadliest shootings.

O'Toole had promised to repeal the order-in-council that instituted the ban, but after several days of attacks from the Liberals about striking a deal with the country's gun lobby, he clarified the ban would stay in place. He pledged, however, to conduct a review of Canada's system for classifying firearms if voted into office.

The Liberals seized on that promise, saying it offers a wink and a nudge to groups representing gun owners that he intends to keep his commitment to repeal the existing legislation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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