SAINT-SAUVEUR, QUEBEC -- A phony war on guns. 

Back in March, one of the main groups lobbying for stricter gun controls declared that Justin Trudeau was no longer welcome to attend their activities commemorating the École Polytechnique feminicide. 

Trudeau had often been a speaker at these very moving events held in memory of 14 women who were killed because they were women. 

Comprised mostly of the families of victims, as well as survivors of that mass murder, the group PolySeSouvient (Poly remembers) was fed up with the broken promises and equivocation of the Liberals on gun control. 

What Bill Blair had announced fell well short of what had been promised and the group was no longer willing to accept to be a backdrop to allow Trudeau to emote. They wanted action and were calling him out for his failure.

It was with no small irony that over the weekend, sensing it had Erin O’Toole on the run on the issue of gun control, the Liberals trotted out the very same Bill Blair to announce new and improved gun control measures!

In a country that prides itself on being far more rational than Americans on the issue of firearms, I’ve sadly been through more than my share of commemorations and funerals after shootings. 

When I was a minister in the Québec government, I attended the funeral of Valérie Gignac, a 25-year-old  police officer in my riding who’d been shot through a door and right through her bullet-proof vest with a high-powered hunting rifle. 

The Polytechnic monument to the 14 women killed was just below the window of my federal riding office in Montréal and I had attended the commemorations. 

I went to Québec City right after the Islamophobic mass murder at the mosque there. The shock and horror at what had taken place shook all of us to the core. Despite meeting the full definition of a terrorist act, it has never been prosecuted as such. The weapon used was indeed an assault-style rifle (a Czech vz. 58, similar to an AK-47) but the killer had also been able to easily acquire an arsenal, including restricted handguns, by simply lying about his mental health history.

The debate now largely revolves around the types of weapons, their shapes, what they look like. Assault-style essentially means that they look like the automatic weapons that are used by armed forces. 

There are objective reasons to want to control them, they’re often smaller and easier to conceal than a hunting rifle but in Canada both the hunting rifle and the assault-style weapon have a five-bullet limit on what the gun’s magazine can hold. 

In a country where hunting is a major activity, no one has ever talked about restricting high-powered hunting rifles. It’s more what the weapon looks like, not what it can do, that remains the focus of our attention. 

Since Harper abolished the long-gun registry, a police officer approaching a house where a domestic dispute has been signalled doesn’t know if there are weapons inside. So much for helping with law and order. 

O’Toole was not lying when he said during the TVA debate that  he was going to keep the ban, he was just not clear on which ban he was referring to. Trudeau was right when he called him out on his intention to roll back restrictions. That was indeed the Conservative platform proposal. 

O’Toole pleaded that he was always referring to the 1977 ban on automatic weapons brought in by Pierre Trudeau. That was a bit of a nose stretcher and O’Toole has been forced to do an uncharacteristic about-face. He had every intention of removing the new rules and gun lobbyists had boasted as much after meeting with him. 

O’Toole’s statement during the TVA debate was, like Trudeau’s past promises, an equivocation. Both protagonists in this gun control phony war are playing hide and seek. Trudeau with his failure to act during the six years he’s been in power, O’Toole with his real intentions. 

Trudeau is promising to finally get it right if only Canadians will elect him for a third time. Problem is, he’s had six years to do it and hasn’t. 

O’Toole is promising to maintain the restrictions and carry out an objective review. Problem is, he’s already tipped his hand as to what that review should conclude. 

Trudeau has been handed a ballot issue that will also help him to define his adversary with voters. Canada’s largest cities have seen an alarming increase in gun violence and people are worried. Of course, the Greater Toronto area, with its 50 seats, remains the prize that the Liberals must win if they hope to hold onto power. This is a tailor-made issue for them. 

O’Toole gamely and correctly points out that the increase in guns and violence can be laid at the Liberal doorstep. Failure to enforce at the border and a large influx of guns did in fact occur during the Liberal watch. But those are facts and the debate is no longer about facts, it’s about feelings and emotions, areas where Trudeau excels. 

This is the type of issue that helps decide elections. Liberal failures are easily forgotten when Trudeau is standing behind a podium with a picture of an assault-style rifle with a big red circle around it. 

Big red circle, indeed!

Tom Mulcair was the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.