Polytechnique victims' loved ones accuse Trudeau of 'betraying' them with new gun control bill

Survivors and family members of victims of the Polytechnique massacre say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has abandoned and betrayed them with his government's firearms legislation Bill C-21.

Survivors, family members say PM won't be welcome at commemorative events if the bill isn't changed

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire greet relatives of victims during ceremonies to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique attack on December 6, 2019 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Friends and family members of the women killed in the École Polytechnique massacre are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of "abandoning" and "betraying" victims of firearms violence with his government's new gun control bill.

In a scathing letter addressed to Trudeau, those close to the victims call on the PM to revise Bill C-21 from top to bottom. 

The tone of the letter, obtained by Radio Canada, is very harsh.

"We are writing to express our anger with respect to the dismal Bill C-21," it reads.

The letter accuses the Liberal government of hypocrisy and says the bill — which was at second reading stage in the House of Commons as of Feb. 26 — falls short because it doesn't include a mandatory buyback program for the assault-style firearms the government prohibited last May.

Three unidentified women hug each other after laying flowers in front of the Polytechnical School at the University of Montreal on Dec. 9, 1989. (Shaney Komulainen/The Canadian Press)

Those who signed the letter accuse the Liberal government of hypocrisy.

"While you and your government may be able to deceive a large segment of the population with empty talking points and catchy slogans, you cannot fool the families and survivors who have been fighting for gun control for over thirty years," the letter reads.

PM may not be welcome at commemorative events

The letter also contains a clear warning: if Justin Trudeau doesn't substantially modify his proposed legislation on firearms control, he will no longer be welcome at events to commemorate the victims of the Dec. 6, 1989 massacre.

"If you carry on with this bill, we will never again accept to have you by our side as we mourn the deaths of our daughters, our sisters, our friends, during annual commemorations," it reads.

Around 30 people signed the letter, including 15 people close to the victims, survivors and witnesses. Fourteen women, many of them engineering students, were killed and more than a dozen people were injured in an attack motivated by the gunman's hatred toward women.

The Trudeau government maintains that its approach to gun control is the right one.

Although Trudeau participated in the Dec. 6 commemorations in recent years in Montreal, his welcome could be very different the next time.

'Crocodile tears'

Jean-François Larivée, who lost his wife Maryse Laganière on Dec. 6, 1989, isn't mincing his words about the prime minister.

"May he no longer cry his crocodile tears at my side and perform his political theatre to try to get votes," said Larivée.

Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the killing, agrees. "For me, he is no longer welcome there," said Provost, who was shot four times in the attack.

"I will no longer greet him. I will no longer accept his words of condolence or sympathy ... For me, it becomes hypocrisy to repeat it time after time and not make steps that are effective.

"I must tell you that we feel used."

'They betrayed us'

Larivée called C-21 "smoke and mirrors."

"They used what we said, what we did, to have more votes, and finally they betrayed us because the bill that has been tabled, it is absolutely nothing," he said.

The gun control advocacy group PolySeSouvient has called for the assault-style firearms prohibition to be accompanied by an obligatory buy-back program, rather than a voluntary one.

According to Bill C-21, owners of outlawed firearms will not be forced to turn them over to authorities in exchange for compensation and can keep them, without using them, as long as they are stored in a secure way.

Those who signed the letter point out that these firearms remain at large, and a future government could reverse the ban.

"Tomorrow, a week from now, a year from now, killers like those of (the) Polytechnique, Dawson or the Quebec mosque, all licensed owners of legally acquired assault weapons, could commit the same massacres with the same weapons and the same high-capacity magazines," says the letter.

"No, we will not be safer because of your bill."

In a written statement, the Prime Minister's Office thanked the signatories and committed to responding directly to them. "We will continue to listen and work with provinces, municipalities and stakeholders who want to tighten gun control," the office said.

"We are persuaded that the bill, as such, is the right approach to take," said Liberal MP Joël Lightbound, parliamentary secretary to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

He said interested groups can express themselves in parliamentary committee hearings and insisted that the government will be listening.

A gun is displayed after being destroyed using a hydraulic press during a firearm buy-back collection event on July 4, 2019 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Lightbound said obligatory buyback programs for assault-style firearms have had mixed results in other countries, such as New Zealand.

"One third of firearms were turned in, two thirds are still in circulation," he said. "In Canada, owners who want to keep their prohibited firearms will have to register them and won't be able to use them.

"I understand the pain of the families of the victims who want us to always do more."

PolySeSouvient also wants to see a national ban on handguns, while the Trudeau government wants to leave it up to individual cities to decide whether to ban them in their jurisdictions.

The Bloc wants a stronger bill

In Ottawa, Bloc Québécois MPs have signalled already that they intend to propose changes to Bill C-21 in parliamentary committee hearings to make the buyback program for assault-style firearms obligatory.

Bloc MP Kristina Michaud called on the Trudeau government to show courage. "If [Trudeau] is for a tightening of control over assault-style firearms, he must make the buyback program obligatory as we are asking," she added.

The New Democratic Party also attacked the bill, saying that Bill C-21 "sorely lacks teeth" when it comes to firearms trafficking. The party is not conditioning its support for the bill on the introduction of an obligatory buyback program, however.

'A house of cards'

In mid-February, the Conservative Party doubled down on its opposition to a ban on assault-style firearms and a buyback program for owners.

"Taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens does nothing to stop dangerous criminals and gangs which obtain their firearms illegally," said Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's Quebec lieutenant, MP Richard Martel.

Provost called the debate over C-21 a "last chance" to secure a more powerful firearms control law.

"If this bill is adopted (in its current form), for us it is like a battle lost completely. It is 30 years of militancy lost. Thirty years of engagement, thirty years of convictions lost," Provost said.

"We were going to have a house of stone, and we have ended up with a house of cards that a simple puff from the Conservatives will be able to destroy," said Larivée.

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