Ahead of shooting anniversary, co-founder of Quebec City mosque calls on Ottawa to ban handguns

Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decrying the lack of progress toward banning handguns in Canada.

In a letter, Boufeldja Benabdallah said he 'can only deplore the total lack of legislative progress'

Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, has written a letter calling on the Trudeau government to do something about the availability and possession of handguns in Canada. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

The co-founder of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre is criticizing the federal government for what he says is a lack of progress toward banning private ownership of handguns.

Boufeldja Benabdallah wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to underscore the issues, days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the shooting at the mosque.

Six people were killed, five were critically injured and several others were wounded in the attack on Jan. 29, 2017.

The shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, walked up to the mosque carrying a .223-calibre semi-automatic rifle with two illegal magazines. The rifle jammed during the attack and Bissonnette took out the 9-mm pistol he was carrying and began shooting.

The letter commends the government for the measures it has put in place, including the ban on some 1,500 makes and models of military-grade "assault-style" weapons from last May.

It also mentions the various promises the Liberals have made regarding firearms dating back to the 2015 election, when they said they would "take action to get handguns and assault weapons off our streets."

Benabdallah said he "can only deplore the total lack of legislative progress in relation to handguns."

He said by now, the government could have placed a moratorium on the importation and manufacture of handguns, a demand made in 2019 by Poly Se Souvient, which includes students and graduates of École Polytechnique, the site of the 1989 Polytechnique shooting.

Abderrahim Loukili, the president of the mosque, says they are happy to see progress, "but that doesn't stop us from continuing to demand what we believe is important for social peace and for a better life for our community."

The administration at the mosque is working with other gun control advocates to pressure the government. A group representing survivors, families, and others affected by the 2018 shooting on Danforth Avenue in Toronto also wrote a letter to Trudeau and Blair.

In it, they say they stand with the victims of the Quebec City shooting and implore the government to take action.

"These tragedies have been enabled by successive federal governments doing neither as much as they could, nor as well as they could," the letter said.

The Trudeau government has said it plans to empower provinces and cities to take steps to manage the storage and use of handguns within their individual jurisdictions, given that they have different needs and concerns.

Heidi Rathjen, the founder of Poly Se Souvient, has been working with members of the Muslim community in Quebec City since the 2017 shooting.

"We know that [with] all these tragedies, there's many factors. But one thing is certain — these killers wouldn't be able to do so much damage without easy access to firearms," said Rathjen.

with files from Josh Grant, Julia Page and The Canadian Press