OTTAWA — Ontario Premier Doug Ford is taking aim at the federal government's new gun control measures, saying he believes the feds should focus on smuggling of illegal weapons at the border and strengthening jail sentences for gun crimes rather than targeting legal gun owners.
On Friday, the Trudeau government outlawed a wide range of assault-style rifles, saying the guns were designed for the battlefield, not for hunting or sport shooting.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also promised a buyback program for all legally purchased rifles that would fall under the new ban, with owners offered fair market prices for their guns — a program expected to cost up to $600 million.
Ford was animated when asked about the new measures Saturday during his daily COVID-19 press conference.
He said he would rather see the millions planned for the gun buyback program go instead toward beefing up border security to stop guns from being illegally smuggled into Canada.
"I can't help but think that money could be put at a much better use hunting down the violent criminals and stopping the illegal guns at our borders," he said.
Ottawa's priority should be strengthening bail conditions and jail sentences for criminals and gang members who commit gun crimes, he added. Ford said he finds it "frustrating" that weapons offenders are often back on the streets within a few days of being arrested and that some receive sentences of only a year or two.
"The problem is not the legal gun owners, we need to target the smugglers and we need to throw the book at these gangsters out there terrorizing our streets," he said.
"Throw the key away with these people if they get caught with guns, don't give them a slap on the wrist and then try to point the finger at legal, law abiding gun owners."
Ford's comments mark a departure from the approach the Ontario premier has taken with the federal Liberals since the COVID-19 pandemic began infecting Canadians and wreaking havoc in Ontario's long-term care centres.
The once highly vocal opponent of Trudeau and his policies has been working collaboratively with the Liberal government in Ottawa, striking a particularly close working friendship with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. She told the Toronto Star she speaks with Ford often and that they "describe one another as each other's therapists."
Ford didn't target any specific criticisms at Trudeau or the federal government in his remarks Saturday, and did say he would be willing to work in partnership with the federal government on measures to stop illegal gun smuggling.
However, he did question the federal plan to spend "hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of hardworking taxpayers' money."
"For what?" he questioned.
"You think gun violence is going to go down in Toronto? I don't believe gun violence is going to go down in Toronto based on taking guns off legal gun owners."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2020.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press