ONTARIO — Canada is banning military-style assault weapons in the wake of a 13-hour shooting rampage in which a man disguised as a police officer killed 22 people at 16 crime scenes before being killed by police.
The ban is effective immediately and covers more than 1,500 models of assault weapons, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Trudeau said in a news conference. “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.”
Canada is not the first country to ban semi-automatic assault weapons in the aftermath of a deadly shooting. Last year, New Zealand enacted a similar ban after Brenton Tarrant, 28, opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people and injuring more than 40 more. According to the BBC, Tarrant pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder in March.
Trudeau conceded that firearms are “part of traditions, passed down through generations” for many Canadians, particularly the nation’s indigenous people.
“The vast majority of gun owners use them safely, responsibly and in accordance with the law, whether it be for work, for sport shooting, for collecting or for hunting,” the prime minister said. “But you don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a deer.
“So, effective immediately, it is no longer permitted to buy, sell, transport, import or use military-grade assault weapons in this country.”
Watch Trudeau’s announcement below.
A two-year amnesty period will be in effect so previously law-abiding gun owners who possess the banned weapons have time to comply with the new regulations. There will be exceptions under the amnesty for indigenous peoples exercising aboriginal or treaty rights to hunt, and for those who hunt or trap to sustain themselves or their families, Trudeau said.
“These exceptions will allow for the continued use of newly prohibited firearms in limited circumstances until a suitable replacement can be found. By the end of the amnesty period, all firearms owners must comply with the ban,” the government said in a statement.
Canadian residents should not surrender their firearms while social distancing requirements remain in effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to authorities. Gun owners should also refrain from taking a firearm to a police station without first calling and making arrangements with a police officer for a safe, scheduled exchange.
A buy-back program will be put in place through the legislature to provide citizens fair compensation for their weapons, Trudeau said.
“Firearms owners must keep their firearms securely stored in accordance with the storage requirements until more information on the buy-back program is available,” the government’s website stated.
The ban comes less than two weeks after Gabriel Wortman, a 51-year-old denture maker in Nova Scotia, killed nearly two dozen people, including a Canadian Mountie, during an overnight rampage across the province.
Authorities announced Tuesday that of the 22 victims, 13 were shot and nine died in house fires set by Wortman, who was disguised as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and driving a replica of a police cruiser.
Wortman owned four cars that he turned into mock RCMP cruisers, authorities said. Three of the vehicles were found at his home after the killings in his neighborhood.
The fourth, Wortman used in the mass shooting.
Witnesses said Wortman, who wore a RCMP uniform, used the car to pull over random drivers and shoot them.
RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell said Tuesday that more than 435 witnesses have been identified in the investigation. At least half have been interviewed and detectives continue to interview the remainder.
Campbell said investigators have determined that the uniform Wortman wore was authentic.
“From witness statements, we’ve learned that the gunman was a collector of many things, including police memorabilia, and was in possession of multiple pieces of police uniforms from a variety of agencies,” Campbell said. “Many witnesses interviewed have spoken to the gunman’s interest in the RCMP, which dates back some time.”
Campbell said authorities were uncertain how Wortman obtained the uniform, but that people can obtain authentic uniform items from surplus stores, auctions and online sales.
All four of Wortman’s cars were former police models that he bought through auctions within the past few years, the superintendent said.
“With regard to the replicated police car he used on April 18 and 19, we believe he obtained it in the fall of 2019, and it was at that time that he outfitted it with the light bar and decals,” Campbell said. “How he had the decals produced is an investigative detail that I can’t get into other than to say we’ve made progress in this area.”
The April 18 massacre, which is the deadliest in Canadian history, began shortly after Wortman assaulted his girlfriend, who ran and hid in the woods near his home in Portapique, a tiny rural community of about 100 people. She remained in the woods overnight, calling 911 the following morning when she felt it was safe.
Wortman set his and multiple other homes on fire and gunned down several people in his neighborhood before leaving the area. The first 911 call was made at 10:01 p.m. and police officers arrived at the scene 25 minutes later, Campbell said.
When they arrived, they found multiple people dead in homes and along the roadway.
“In total there were over seven locations where people were found deceased,” Campbell previously said. “Many of the deceased were discovered while responding (RCMP) members were checking homes for victims and/or suspects.”
Wortman drove about 15 miles east to Debert, where he arrived around 11:10 p.m. and stayed until 5:45 a.m. April 19.
“What he did in that area between those times is of great interest to us,” Campbell said Tuesday. “We have conducted a thorough search of the area and we are looking for anyone who may have seen anything suspicious to contact us.”
Police initially believed that their crime scene was contained in the Portapique area. That belief was shattered when calls began coming in from Wentworth, located about 42 miles to the north, and Wortman’s girlfriend told them he had another police cruiser.
Wortman drove the replicated car to a home where acquaintances of his lived.
“We have him on video on Hunter Road (in Wentworth) at approximately 6:30 a.m., close to the residence where he killed two men and a woman,” Campbell said. “We believe he entered the residence, killed the victims shortly after and remained there for some time.”
Video shows Wortman’s mock patrol car leaving the area around 9:35 a.m.
Security footage helped authorities trace Wortman’s movements through Wentworth, where he knocked on the door of another acquaintance.
“They identified him to 911 call takers and said he was driving a police vehicle and carrying a long gun,” Campbell said in a previous update. “They didn't answer the door and he left.”
Wortman drove through Truro to Millbrook, where he was again captured on video with the replica cruiser, and moved on to an intersection in Shubenacadie, just over 40 miles from where the mass shooting began the night before.
Watch video of Wortman and his replica cruiser below, courtesy of CBC News.
Campbell previously told reporters the intersection is where RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, who was on the lookout for the accused shooter, had agreed to meet with a colleague, Constable Chad Morrison. Morrison was already there, waiting for Stevenson, when he saw what he believed to be a real police cruiser approaching.
“As they had prearranged to meet at that location, Constable Morrison thought the vehicle was Constable Stevenson,” Campbell said. “The approaching police vehicle was actually driven by the gunman.”
Wortman pulled up beside Morrison’s patrol car and opened fire, striking the constable multiple times, according to authorities. Morrison retreated from the area, calling in the shooting over his radio and telling dispatchers he was en route to an emergency room, where he was treated and later released.
Meanwhile, Stevenson was driving north on Highway 2 toward the scene and Wortman was traveling south, Campbell said.
“At that point, both vehicles collided head-on,” Campbell said. “Constable Heidi Stevenson engaged the gunman. The gunman took Constable Stevenson’s life. He also took Constable Stevenson’s gun and mags.”
At the scene of the Mountie’s killing, Wortman shot another driver and took that driver’s silver SUV. He then set Stevenson’s cruiser and his mock patrol car on fire.
“After those encounters, the gunman traveled south on Highway 224 for a short distance, where he entered a home on the east side of the highway,” Campbell said.
He shot and killed a woman he knew there and removed the uniform he’d been wearing, authorities said. He also transferred his weapons to the victim’s Mazda 3, which he then drove to Enfield.
The carnage and the manhunt for the suspect came to an end at a gas station in Enfield, about 10 miles from where Stevenson was slain.
“While he was at the gas pumps, one of our tactical resources came into the gas station to refuel their vehicle,” Campbell said last week. “When the officer exited the vehicle, there was an encounter and the gunman was shot and killed by police at 11:26 a.m.”
Wortman, who was not licensed to carry firearms in Canada, is believed to have acted alone, authorities said. His motive for the massacre remains unclear.
Though he knew some of his victims, others were strangers, Campbell said.
“It would appear as if he was just targeting individuals that either he knew or individuals for whatever reason that I don’t think any of us will either understand or comprehend,” the superintendent said.
The investigation into the mass killing continues.
Prior to Wortman’s rampage, the most deadly mass shooting in Canada was in 1989 at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique college, where gunman Marc Lepine killed 14 women before turning his gun on himself. Lepine, 25, reportedly had a hatred of women.
Trudeau said Friday that Wortman’s actions have had an enormous impact on the nation.
“An entire generation of Canadians will remember exactly where they were on Sunday, April 18, 2020,” Trudeau said. “They will remember how their sense of safety was shaken and how their outlook on the world was forever changed.”
The prime minister emphasized the need for action in the aftermath of the killings.
“This chapter in our history cannot be rewritten. But what happens next is up to us,” Trudeau said. “We can stick to thoughts and prayers alone, or we can unite as a country to put an end to this.
“We can decide together that enough is enough.”
Cox Media Group