Survivors of Quebec mass shootings plead for ban on assault weapons

The president of the Quebec City mosque where six men were fatally shot in January 2017 travelled to Ottawa Tuesday, to call for a prohibition on weapons like those carried by killer Alexandre Bissonnette.

President of Quebec City mosque flanked by survivor of 1989 Polytechnique shooting at Bill C-71 hearing

Quebec Mosque president Boufeldja Benabdallah, left, stands by mosque shooting victim Ahmed Cheddadi in April 2018. Benabdallah appeared before the standing committee on public safety and national security in Ottawa to call for a ban on assault weapons. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The president of the Quebec City mosque where six men were fatally shot in January 2017 travelled to Ottawa Tuesday to plead with the government to impose an outright ban on all semi-automatic and military-style weapons in Canada.

Boufeldja Benabdallah appeared before the standing committee on public safety and national security, which is now reviewing C-71, a bill to amend the federal Firearms Act.

Accompanied by two of the men hit by bullets in the mosque attack, Benabdallah called for a prohibition on weapons like those killer Alexandre Bissonnette carried the night of the mass shooting.

"Everyone is appalled that this individual had an assault weapon," Benabdallah said of the Czech Small Arms rifle Bissonnette intended to use to kill those gathered inside the mosque, on Jan. 29, 2017.
This semi-automatic rifle, which mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette carried the night of the attack, jammed. 'We nearly lost many more lives,' Benabdallah told a parliamentary committee Tuesday. (Court exhibit)

At the recent sentencing hearing for the 28-year-old killer, evidence revealed Bissonnette walked up to the mosque carrying the .223-calibre semi-automatic rifle with two illegal magazines, which could have fired up to 30 rounds in quick succession.

While the magazines were illegal, the rifle itself is legal in Canada, something that Benabdallah said was extremely upsetting for members of the mosque.

 "These weapons destroy lives, they are military weapons and should not circulate in our society," he said.

The rifle jammed during the attack, at which point Bissonnette took out the 9-mm pistol he was carrying and began shooting, killing six men and wounding five others.

"We nearly lost many more lives, and we do not want our fellow citizens to lose their lives," Benabdallah said.

Bill C-71 falls short, says Poly Remembers

At Benabdallah's side was Heidi Rathjen, co-ordinator of Poly Remembers, which includes students, families and victims of the 1989 shooting at Montreal's École polytechnique in which 14 women were gunned down.

Rathjen said Bill C-71 fails to live up to the Liberals' electoral promises.
"The RCMP has warned the public security minister several times of the danger of these weapons," Rathjen said, calling for a strengthening of the proposed law.
Heidi Rathjen, right, seen here with Polytechnique shooting survivor Nathalie Provost in Montreal last January, joined Benabdallah in Ottawa Tuesday to call for the strengthening of Bill C-71. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Poly Remembers approves of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's intention to prohibit two groups of firearms that were downgraded under the Conservative government: the Swiss Arms Classic series and all CZ-858 rifles. (A grandfather clause would permit current owners of these weapons to keep them under certain conditions.)

The group is disappointed, however, that C-71 makes no explicit mention of the private possession of weapons that have been used in mass shootings in North America. 

"There is no rational reason to justify private ownership of firearms designed to kill humans," the group argued in its brief.

The proposed changes to Canada's firearms laws, tabled by Goodale in March, include more extensive background checks for buyers and the introduction of record-keeping practices for vendors.

It's being criticized by some gun enthusiasts as a roundabout way to recreate the long gun registry dismantled by the former Harper government.

On Thursday, the committee will hear from the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, as well as the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, among other groups.

With files from Canadian Press, La Presse Canadienne and Radio-Canada