'Not again': Son of Quebec mosque shooting victim calls for gun reform after Toronto deaths

Amir Belkacemi, whose father Khaled was killed by Alexandre Bissonnette in 2017, tells Checkup a handgun ban won't end gun violence, but it could help.

'In 2018, we kind of have to reconsider our idea of what safety is,' said Amir Belkacemi

Amir Belkacemi's father was one of six people killed in the January 2017 shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. (CBC)
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When Amir Belkacemi heard about the July 22 mass shooting in Toronto's Greektown neighbourhood, the news was familiar.

"I thought to myself, 'Not again, not again,'" he told Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue. "The Quebec mosque shooting is still very fresh in our memories."

Belkacemi's father, Khaled, was one of six people killed in the January 2017 shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. The shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, plead guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in March.

Megda Belkacemi, left, and her brother Amir called their father's violent death 'senseless' during the sentencing hearings for Alexandre Bissonnette, charged with the first-degree murder of Khaled Belkacemi and five other men. (Julia Page/CBC)

Speaking on Checkup Sunday evening, Belkacemi remembered his father and addressed calls for a handgun ban in Toronto following the shooting that claimed three lives, including the shooter Faisal Hussain.

"A ban wouldn't have stopped Alexandre Bissonnette to take some kind of gun, storm through a mosque and shoot people," he said.

"But it would have made it more difficult."

Gun owners defend 'sport'

Earlier this week, Toronto city council voted overwhelmingly to ask Ottawa for a ban on handgun sales within city limits. The Liberal government has proposed "common sense" gun law reform — Bill C-71 — that they say will crack down on illegal firearms while protecting legal gun owners.

Advocates argue a ban is the best way to reduce gun violence in the city. Meanwhile, gun owners told Checkup that such an approach infringes the rights of legal firearm owners.

I can't understand that some people, for some reason, would want to have such guns.- Amir Belkacemi, son of Quebec mosque shooting victim

Calling from Thunder Bay, Ont., Terry Douglas — a former gun owner who was shot accidentally during a domestic dispute — believes a handgun ban is ludicrous.

"It's not addressing the major problem, which is guns being obtained illegally," he said.

Every time gun violence occurs in the country, Douglas said, legal gun owners are forced to defend their sport.

"[We] have to justify … our reason for enjoying what we enjoy."

The desire to own a gun is something that Belkacemi has trouble understanding.

"I understand that we live in a free country. I can't understand that some people, for some reason, would want to have such guns," he said.

'Nowhere … is totally safe'

Belkacemi doesn't believe that an outright ban on handguns will stop people from using them, a sentiment echoed by many Checkup callers on Sunday.

However, Belkacemi says that gun laws need to be be strengthened, saying that Bill C-71 is a "good place to start."

"It's very important … that we strengthen background checks when it comes to permits for guns," he said.

Safia Hamoudi, centre, speaks of the tragedy that took her husband, Khaled Belkacemi, at a gathering at the Centre Islamique de Quebec, marking the first anniversary of the mosque shooting. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

While Belkacemi believes that Canada remains a safe place, the recent spate of gun violence in the country has him shaken.

It's a "crazy world," he told Checkup, adding that "nowhere … is totally safe."

"In 2018, we kind of have to reconsider our idea of what safety is," he said.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Erin Pettit. To hear our full interview with Amir Belkacemi, click Listen above.