Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
© Blair Gable/Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed Sunday's mass shootings in Nova Scotia and provided his daily update on the fight against COVID-19 in a news conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Monday, April 20, 2020.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government will strengthen gun control legislation as soon as possible.

As MPs debated in the House of Commons about how to facilitate a return to Parliament during the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau addressed Canadians Monday about the tragic shooting in Nova Scotia that left at least 18 dead on Sunday.

"Just how can this happen, we may never know why, but do know this, know one man's action cannot build a wall between us and a better day no matter how evil, how thoughtless and how destructive," Trudeau said. "Canadians are kind and generous, we are there for each other and we look out for one another. As families grieve the loss of a loved one, all Canadians are standing with them."

Responding to questions from the media amid renewed calls for stricter gun laws, Trudeau said he made serious commitments during the last election campaign regarding tightened gun control, and his government was on the verge of introducing legislation to ban assault-style weapons across Canada when the pandemic resulted in the suspension of Parliament. He said his government plans to pick up where it left off as soon as it has the opportunity to do so.

"We have every intention on moving forward on that measure and potentially other measures when Parliament returns," he said.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair also faced questions about when and by what parliamentary mechanism that legislation might be tabled or introduced, but would not offer specifics on the timeline or process, saying only that it is his intention to bring in legislation as soon as possible.

"The actual schedule on bringing forward that legislation, that is still to be determined because we are in somewhat uncertain times in Parliament, but it does not in any way imply we are any less committed to taking the steps that are necessary to keep Canadians safe and strengthen our gun laws," he said.

On top of a ban on assault rifles, Blair said the federal government is working on a number of other significant steps as part of its efforts to strengthen gun control, including new legislation that will tighten gun storage rules to prevent a diversion of firearms into the hands of people who would commit crimes, reduce the smuggling of firearms across the border and introduce what are sometimes referred to as red flag laws to ensure individuals who represent a significant risk to themselves and others don't have access to firearms.

During the throne speech in December 2019, the Trudeau government also committed to introducing a firearm buy-back program, allowing municipalities and communities to ban handguns, and funding to help cities fight gang-related violence.

Other countries — such as New Zealand following the 2019 Mosque shootings, and Australia following a 1996 shooting — moved quickly to tighten gun laws in light of mass shootings.

Weekend shooting 'heartbreak on top of other heartbreak'

Details about the weapons used in Sunday's shootings and whether or not they were legally obtained have not yet been made public, and as such Trudeau would not speculate Monday on whether the tragedy could have been prevented if the proposed gun control measures had been in place.

Trudeau also spoke Monday about whether physical distancing measures could be temporarily relaxed to allow Nova Scotians to grieve, bury their loved ones and commemorate their lives.

He said while he understands how painful it is for families who have lost loved ones to imagine they are not going to be able to see them off together, there are thousands of Canadians who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and other causes who haven't been able to gather to mourn due to the pandemic.

"This is something we are dealing with right now, which is heartbreak on top of other heartbreak, and I know everyone will be looking for other ways to demonstrate their solidarity without putting further at risk communities, first responders, our health professionals and our seniors," Trudeau said.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the majority of COVID-19 cases have been linked to a single funeral in March.

Several virtual vigils have already been planned, and Trudeau said he plans to attend as many as possible.

Trudeau acknowledged the loss of RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force who was killed while responding to the shooting. He also wished for the speedy recovery of Const. Chad Morrison, who is in hospital recovering from gunshot wounds. He said this is a tragic reminder of the risks first responders take to keep the public safe.

"Paramedics, doctors, nurses, firefighters and police officers, they're always here for us. They've been stepping up through the pandemic, and yesterday in Nova Scotia they showed that bravery," Trudeau said. "These are exceptional circumstances, yet you did what you always do, you ran towards danger without pause, without hesitation, you put your life on the line on behalf of all Canadians. Thank you for your service."