Survivors and family members of victims of shooting massacres in Canada gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa today, and accused the federal government of dragging its heels on promised tougher gun control laws.
Expressing bitter disappointment, representatives of those affected by the École Polytechnique, Dawson College and Quebec mosque mass shootings called on the Liberals to provide a precise timetable for a new bill.
The representatives said they are losing hope that the government will table legislation by the end of 2017 as promised, and outlined the human costs of what they called "weak" laws related to possession permits, gun sales and the availability of assault weapons, which include most of the models used in recent mass shootings south of the border.
Heidi Rathjen, a graduate of Polytechnique and co-ordinator of Poly Remembers, said the government has taken some steps around gun measures, but made no substantial progress on federal laws. She said federal officials have "all but confirmed" that legislation will not be tabled by year's end.
"Another delay, another reason why, amongst other statements, other actions taken by this government in the past two years, that do not inspire confidence in us that the government intends to move forward with a strong bill in an urgent manner," she said.
Rathjen could not say why the government has not yet tabled a bill, but suggested pressure from the opposition gun lobby is at play.
Next week marks the 28th anniversary of the Dec. 6 massacre at Montreal's École Polytechnique. Fourteen women were killed and more than two dozen were wounded.
'Ridiculously messed up'
Meaghan Hennigan, who survived two gunshots 11 years ago at Dawson College in Montreal, said she is disappointed in the Liberal progress on gun control to date.
"Most Canadians would be shocked to learn that the guns used in recent mass shootings in the United States are freely available for private ownership in Canada," she said. "Many assault weapons are unrestricted. It's ridiculously messed up. These are the kinds of weapons an individual can seriously injure or kill above 50 people within a mere matter of minutes."
Hennigan was among the 16 wounded at the Sept. 13, 2006, mass shooting at Dawson College that claimed the life of student Anastasia De Sousa.
The Quebec City mosque shooting, an attack by a lone gunman on Jan. 29, 2017, left six dead and 19 wounded.
New laws not effective
Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, said directing tougher gun control measures against law-abiding members of society is contrary to Trudeau's commitment to evidence-based laws.
"The push for constant incremental laws directed against the 2.1 million lawful and trustworthy firearms owners of Canada seems more emotion-based than evidence-based," he said. "Being fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, Canada's firearms community feels the grief of senseless tragedies. However, passing laws against those who do not commit these crimes seems lacking in effectiveness."
Election promises on gun control
During the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised sweeping measures to "get handguns and assault weapons off our streets." They included:
- Enhanced background checks for gun buyers.
- Stronger record-keeping requirements for sellers.
- Tougher transport rules.
- Investment in task forces tackling illegal firearms.
Scott Bardsley, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the government will be introducing a legislative package "consistent with the measures laid out in our election platform" in the near future.
Prioritize public safety
"The government believes in effective firearms measures that prioritize public safety while ensuring fair treatment for law-abiding firearms owners," he said.
Bardsley said the government has already taken steps to toughen gun control including:
- Reversing a ministerial directive that allowed gun manufacturers to determine the classification of their own products.
- Established a more balanced Firearms Advisory Committee that represents a broad range of interests.
- Tabled Bill C-52 to permit the sharing of the Quebec-related portion of the remaining non-restricted firearms registration records with that province.
- Announced $327.6 million over five years, and $100 million each year after, in funding to reduce gun crime and criminal gang activities.