OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is confident the Liberal government's approach to gun control is the right one, but added he's open to hearing suggestions for improvement.
Trudeau hinted Friday at a willingness to modify recently tabled legislation after family members of women killed in the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal denounced the bill as a dismal effort that would not make society safer.
The families, survivors of the mass shooting and witnesses said in a letter to the prime minister this week he would no longer be welcome at annual commemorations unless his government strengthens the bill.
The legislation proposes a buyback of many recently banned firearms the government considers assault-style weapons, but owners would be allowed to keep them under strict conditions, including registration and secure storage of the guns.
The letter to Trudeau says the buyback must be mandatory to ensure the measure cannot be easily overturned by the Conservatives, should they form government, given the party's opposition to the firearms ban.
"By introducing this bill, you are playing into the hands of the gun lobby," the letter says.
The legislation would also allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation.
The letter from families says the plan would create an ineffective patchwork of laws and a "needless burden on the backs of elected municipal officials who already have enough on their plate providing local services."
Many seeking to restrict handguns have called for a truly national ban that could ensure consistency across the country.
Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair have steadfastly defended the bill, which has also been criticized by some gun owners who say it unfairly singles out law-abiding Canadians.
Trudeau said Friday the legislation was based on "in-depth study" of Canadian circumstances and ideas that worked well in other countries.
But he expressed solidarity with victims of violence and their families, saying "we will always work together."
"I look forward to the parliamentary hearings on that bill to make sure that we're doing everything we can," Trudeau said.
"We are looking to find ways to keep people safe. And we are confident that our approach is the right one. But we're always open to listening to testimony that may suggest possible improvements."
The group PolySeSouvient, composed of gun-control advocates with ties to Ecole Polytechnique, said Friday that Trudeau appears not to have read the letter correctly.
The group tweeted the bill does not need improvements but a total overhaul "or, rather, to be scrapped and replaced."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press