Pro-gun group backs off plans to rally at Polytechnique memorial

A pro-gun lobby group in Quebec says it is looking for another spot to protest after being roundly condemned for planning a rally at the park commemorating the 14 women killed at Montreal's École Polytechnique in 1989.

Widespread condemnation leaves organizer looking for another location

A pro-gun lobby group in Quebec has backed off plans to hold a rally here at Place du 6-décembre-1989, a memorial site for the 14 women killed at École Polytechnique, however, it says the protest will still take place, as planned, four days before the 28th anniversary of the massacre. (Radio-Canada)

A pro-gun lobby group in Quebec is looking for another spot to protest after being roundly condemned for planning a rally at the park commemorating the 14 women killed at Montreal's École Polytechnique in 1989.

The rally planned for Dec. 2, just four days before the 28th anniversary of the shooting, aims to bring attention to what the lobby group calls "excessive firearm control."

Event organizer Guy Morin acknowledged Tuesday the original location for the event was deliberately chosen to spark controversy and get attention. His group opposes Quebec's plans to create a long-gun registry. 

He argued the killings at École Polytechnique, Canada's worst mass shooting, are unfairly used by gun control advocates to further their agenda.

Morin said the rally will go on, as scheduled, at a location that's still to be determined.

Nathalie Provost, who has been a prominent advocate for gun control since surviving the Polytechnique shooting, said earlier Tuesday the planned rally showed "a profound lack of respect for the families of victims."

The Place du 6-décembre-1989, the Montreal park commemorating the 14 victims, has become a "place of peace and commemoration" for all victims of gun violence, said Provost, who was shot four times.

Observers have pointed to the massacre on Dec. 6, 1989, as a turning point in the history of gun control in Canada and the event that solidified Quebec's more restrictive attitude toward guns. 

'Needless and cruel provocation,' PM says

Politicians were quick to speak out against the planned protest. Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said it showed a "lack of judgment" and "lack of respect towards the victims of this tragedy and all women victims of violence." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a "needless and cruel provocation."

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux also condemned the move but said it was within the group's rights to hold the demonstration.

On the group's Facebook event page, fewer than 100 people had said they plan to attend the rally at the Polytechnique memorial. The group, though, has roughly 25,000 members on Facebook.

Dominique Duchesne believes a gun registry is a waste of money that should instead be devoted to hiring more police officers and addressing mental health issues. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Dominique Duchesne, who was committed to attending, said being a gun owner in Quebec can feel "taboo."

Registry still needed, advocate says

In Provost's view, there remains more to be done to curtail gun violence in Canada, especially since the federal long-gun registry was abolished in 2012.

Quebec is in the midst of establishing its own long-gun registry. Last month, a Quebec Superior Court judge rejected an attempt by the National Firearms Association to halt the registry's creation.

Louise de Sousa, whose daughter Anastasia was killed during a 2006 mass shooting at Dawson College, said she hopes the registry will be completed soon.

Like Provost, de Sousa said anti-gun control groups have a right to express their views, but the memorial park wasn't the right place to do it.

A counter-demonstration at the memorial park was also organized for Saturday.

"May we protest silently with candles to keep their memory alive, so that such a tragedy does not happen again," the event page says.

After the pro-gun group announced it would change locations, counter-protesters created a poll on their event page to decide whether to hold their silent vigil anyway, change the date to the Dec. 6 anniversary or cancel it altogether. 

People gather at the memorial park every year on Dec. 6 to mark the anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre. (Ryan Remiorz/CBC)

With files from Radio-Canada and Sudha Krishnan