Hjertaas says Trudeau’s apology sincere, urges Canadians to give him a second chance

Prime Minister and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau speaks during a campaign rally turned town hall session in Saskatoon on Thursday, Sept. 19. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert Liberal candidate Estelle Hjertaas says it was racist and wrong of Prime Minster Justin Trudeau to dress in blackface, but she believes he’s genuinely sorry.

Hjertaas was one of several Liberal candidates in attendance when the Prime Minister spoke at a campaign rally turned town hall meeting in Saskatoon on Thursday. She’s convinced Trudeau’s apology was sincere, and she’s ready to keep supporting him.

“I absolutely believe in second and third and fourth chances for everybody,” Hjertaas said during an interview on Friday. “If you take responsibility and genuinely want to move forward, it’s settled. It doesn’t matter what the mistake was.”

Trudeau faced only one question during the town hall about two photos and a short video that emerged showing him dressed in blackface, a form of theatrical make-up used by non-black actors, singers and entertainers. The practice was popular in the 19th century, but modern critics say it’s responsible for creating harmful caricatures and stereotypes of black people.

When asked if Trudeau should step down from his position as Liberal Party leader, Hjertaas said that wasn’t necessary. Instead, she said the right approach is to admit his mistakes, learn from them and move forward.

Hjertaas added that she saw no reason why Trudeau should have made the photos public and apologized for them before they were discovered and reported on by the media.

“I’m honestly not sure why it’s coming out at this point, but why would he or anybody else in his position specifically bring out mistakes they’ve made in the past,” she said. “I’m not sure why they would. Maybe he’s apologized to people in his close circle about it in the past, but I don’t think any politician goes out intentionally digging out negative stories about their past so they can apologize for them proactively. I may be wrong.

 “Maybe this conversation about this is going to prompt people to look at their own history and proactively look at mistakes and acknowledge them,” she added. “I honestly can’t tell you that I have a strong opinion either way. I think it’s an ongoing, evolving conversation and it’s an important one to have. It’s allowed us to hear perspectives from a lot of people who were hurt by this, and how we can do better. I think we need to listen to those people and look to them as the best way to move things forward.”

Hjertaas said the incident has actually led to a few more local volunteers for the Liberal campaign. She said they admire the Prime Minister for how he handled the issue, and believe it was unfair to bring up incidents that happened so long ago.

Liberals pledge to strengthen gun control laws if re-elected

The Liberal Party says it will ban all military-style assault rifles if re-elected, including the AR-15, but will respect the rights of law-abiding hunters, according to a media release sent out on Friday.

The release claims there were 2,500 more victims of gun violence in 2017 than in 2013, and that too many of those deaths were due to military-style weapons that had no place in Canada.

“A re-elected Liberal government will ban assault weapons and strengthen gun control in Canada,” the release reads. “Gun crime in Canada is on the rise.”

In addition to banning military-style assault rifles, the Liberals have also promised to give municipalities the ability to restrict or ban handguns, and pledged to create stricter safe-storage laws to prevent legally purchased weapons from falling into the hands of criminals.

Estelle Hjertaas, the Liberal candidate for the electoral district of Prince Albert, said she won’t support any gun laws that negatively affect hunters. However, she believes the decision to strengthen other aspects of Canada’s gun laws is the right choice.

“Across Canada, I don’t think there is any need for anyone to own assault style rifles that we can’t use for hunting,” she said. “There isn’t any reason for anybody to have that and I’m a hunter. We don’t need those to shoot animals. In fact, we’re not allowed to use them to shoot animals, so I think it is important.”

Hjertaas said the AR-15 has a number of derivative models used for hunting, which should be legal.

The Liberal press release highlighted plans for a two-year amnesty while the program is being setup, and also included a promise to start a buyback program that would give fair market value for all assault rifles legally purchased.

The press release also included a pledge to not bring back the long-gun registry.

According to the Prince Albert Police Service, firearms crimes and seizures have been on the rise since 2016. Police report that most gun-related crimes are committed using legally purchased guns that are modified by illegal means.

To combat this, the Liberals plan to ask the RCMP to establish a program to flag bulk purchases of firearms in hopes it will make it harder for criminals to obtain weapons.

“It’s possible people who don’t have criminal records are legally purchasing firearms to give to gang members,”Hjertaas said. “We don’t know if that’s happening or not, (but) allowing (law enforcement) to flag bulk purchases would allow the RCMP to potentially determine if it’s the same person consistently buying firearms that end up being found in the hands of gang members, or at least in the criminal justice system, as modified weapons. Certainly that could be a helpful tool for the police.”

Hjertaas added that she doesn’t think handgun crime is a problem in Prince Albert and the surrounding area, but she supports giving cities the choice to regulate their use.

She’s confident the other measures will lead to a reduction in crime, but added that there’s no way to guarantee mass-shootings won’t happen in Canada.

“The idea is to try and make (mass-shootings) more difficult,” she said. “If you restrict access to weapons, to firearms in particular, then we know that there are going to be less people who have access to them and less people who have the means to commit mass shootings. That’s the goal.”

“I don’t think that we can realistically say that we can reach a point where we can, with absolute certainly, say that no one will ever be able to get their hands on a weapon like this, right,” she continued. “There are other issues like 3d printing, things like that, that are problematic, but if we restrict the availability of the weapons, then that is a step forward.”