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Gun-control group urges Trudeau to name new minister to advance Liberal promises


OTTAWA — An influential voice on gun control says it is time for a new cabinet minister to usher in the re-elected Liberal government's promised firearm measures. 

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the group PolySeSouvient calls for the appointment of a minister who "truly supports gun control." 

PolySeSouvient has frequently expressed frustration with Liberal efforts to strengthen gun laws, led in recent years by Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, as public safety minister. 

The group includes students and graduates of Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, where a gunman killed 14 women in 1989. 

As Trudeau assembles a new cabinet, PolySeSouvient says any MP who publicly defended Bill C-21, sponsored by Blair earlier this year, "would not be trustworthy" to deliver on gun control. 

The bill proposed a buyback of recently banned firearms the government considers assault-style weapons, but would have allowed owners to keep them under strict conditions — a feature the group sharply criticized.

During the recent election campaign, the Liberals promised to make it mandatory for owners of the banned firearms, which include the Ruger Mini-14 used at Polytechnique, to either sell them back to the government or have them rendered inoperable at federal expense.

Trudeau pounced on a Conservative platform promise to scrap the Liberal ban on a wide variety of guns and review the Firearms Act with input from police, gun owners, manufacturers and the public. Tory Leader Erin O'Toole amended the pledge mid-campaign to say outlawed guns would remain banned, but he did not say whether that might change following the planned review.

Bill C-21 also would have given municipalities the power to ban handguns. The Liberals promised during the campaign to expand that authority to entire provinces or territories, a plan that still falls short for those, like PolySeSouvient, who want a truly national ban to avoid a patchwork of handgun laws. 

"We are convinced that the Canadian public, whose votes were clearly influenced by the issue, expects, as we do, swift and bold action to strengthen our gun laws," says the Sept. 24 letter to the prime minister.

It is signed by PolySeSouvient spokeswoman Nathalie Provost, who was shot during the Polytechnique rampage, and Heidi Rathjen, a graduate of the school and coordinator of the group.

Trudeau said this week he plans to appoint cabinet members next month, with a new session of Parliament slated for fall.

PolySeSouvient says a clear mandate, public support and backing of the NDP and Bloc Québécois should enable the government to meet the expectations of Canadians on gun control.

"All that remains is to appoint a minister who is up to the task."

The group urges Trudeau to appoint a cabinet member who will act on priorities including:

— Meaningful consultations with chiefs of police, police representatives, organizations that fight domestic violence, public health and suicide prevention specialists, legal experts, victims organizations, hunters and guns stores;

— implementation of the buyback program "as soon as possible" given that the amnesty for current owners ends next April 30;

— prohibition of numerous models that were not covered by the regulations;

— a new legal definition of "prohibited" firearms to make the ban on various guns permanent;

— elimination of loopholes and exceptions related to magazines to ensure universal compliance with legal limits on the number of rounds; and

— improved police access to sales records to allow data collection without a search warrant so officers can better trace the origin of a non-restricted firearm and detect patterns such as mass purchases.

Provost said there has been "no real progress" on gun control in the last six years because Liberal measures have been too timid, unlike the Chretien government's comprehensive legislation of a quarter-century ago.

"This is what needs to fundamentally change," she said. "And for that to happen, we need a minister who is not afraid to act boldly, something we have not seen since Allan Rock was justice minister in the 1990s." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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