Leaders duel over violence
Voter alarm about fatal shootings heats up election
Norma Greenaway and Allan Woods, with files from ElizabethThompson, CanWest News Service
Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2006
OTTAWA — The federal election campaign restarted in full yesterday with the Conservatives and Liberals duelling over which party is best suited to tackle the country's growing gun violence.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper began the campaign's unofficial second half with a rally in Ottawa. Mr. Harper's tough-on-crime pitch was clearly aimed at wooing urban and suburban voters upset over a spate of gun violence in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and elsewhere.
Mr. Harper took particular aim at the Boxing Day murder of Jane Creba, a 15-year-old Torontonian who was gunned down while shopping with her sister on Yonge Street.
"This is not the Toronto I grew up in," Mr. Harper told the crowd of about 200. "We would not have tolerated such violence."
He said the federal Liberals' refusal to implement tougher sentencing was largely to blame for the rise in violence, and vowed a Conservative government would move swiftly to require mandatory sentences for repeat serious offenders.
The Liberals charged that they introduced legislation on mandatory minimum sentences, although the Tories later pointed out that Bill C-41 did not support longer prison sentences and instead focused on extending other custody provisions such as house arrest.
The Tories also pointed to several past statements from Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler in which he disapproved of the principle and effectiveness of mandatory-minimum prison sentences.
The Liberals have proposed a ban on handguns and new laws that put the onus on those charged with gun crimes to prove why they were not illegally in possession of the weapon as a condition of bail.
There have been suggestions that such measures would constitute an extraordinary punishment if subjected to a legal challenge, but Paul Martin rejected such thought.
"We're very much in favour of the reverse-onus in terms of gun crime and the fact is that the reverse onus was used in the case of the bikers in Montreal and it has withstood the tests put to it," the Prime Minister said.
The reverse-onus laws used in organized-crime cases, however, were related to property used or obtained in the commission of a criminal offence.
NDP leader Jack Layton did not specifically address gun violence yesterday, but instead moved to try to stop strategic voters from fleeing his party to stave off the prospect of a Conservative government.
Speaking to about 150 supporters at a downtown Ottawa Legion hall and later to reporters, Mr. Layton said voting for the Liberal party is tantamount to voting Conservative.
"Some people voted for the Liberals last time, thinking that maybe they would do something similar to what the NDP proposed. Then they turned right around and in Mr. Martin's first chance to act, he gave a great big corporate tax cut instead of honouring promises and meeting the needs of Canadians. I don't think they are going to be fooled twice," Mr. Layton said, adding the Liberals "hoodwinked" voters into thinking the party was left of centre.
Voting NDP will mean more MPs who are able to pressure the government into introducing the kinds of changes that New Democrats believe in, he argued.
"In the last election, one million more people voted for the NDP and the result was we were able to force the Liberals not to give a big corporate tax giveaway to their friends — something the Conservatives liked — but instead make sure that it got to students and to the things that people thought were important. So more New Democrats are going to produce more of those results and that is called smart voting."
© National Post 2006