MONTREAL — Groups representing survivors and families of victims of Quebec mass shootings are questioning the Liberal government's commitment to eliminating handguns and assault weapons on the eve of a federal consultation in Montreal.
Gun-control advocates with ties to Ecole Polytechnique, Dawson College and the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre — all scenes of deadly shootings — said they will take part Thursday in the private meeting with government representatives but fear it's too late to accomplish anything.
"I think our main point is that it's coming quite late in the process," said Heidi Rathjen, co-ordinator of PolySeSouvient, a gun-control group formed in the wake of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre. "The Liberal Party ran on getting handguns and assault weapons out of our streets. They were elected to a majority based on that platform, so in our minds the Liberals had a mandate to confront the issue."
She said the conversation about banning assault weapons has been going on since the Polytechnique tragedy 29 years ago. "We're happy there's a consultation, but we're very worried about concrete results before the next federal election."
In 2015, the Liberal platform promised to introduce a series of measures to toughen gun laws, specifying that they would "get handguns and assault weapons off our streets.”
Rathjen said it was already troubling that such a ban wasn't part of Bill C-71 — legislation tabled last March to tighten Canada's firearms law, including enhanced background checks for obtaining a firearms licence and mandatory record-keeping for vendors.
"We're hoping that there's action, but the process is very suspect," Rathjen said.
Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair announced the invitation-only consultations this month. He has said he wants them completed by the end of the year with a report coming in early 2019.
For Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Quebec City mosque where six worshippers were gunned down in January 2017, a ban on handguns and assault weapons is essential, and he wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May to express his disappointment one wasn't included in Bill C-71.
"It's simple, because we suffered the consequences with six of our people dying and others injured because of someone who had access to assault weapons and handguns," Benabdallah said. "Lets not have this again — put in a place a law that wall-to-wall forbids it."
Benabdallah said there have already been enough tragedies to give lawmakers reason to act.
"If the law doesn't meet our standards, it is too weak," he said.
Trudeau asked Blair to lead the probe into a possible ban after a series of deadly gun incidents this year, including a mass shooting on Toronto's Danforth Avenue in July that killed an 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl and injured 13 others.
Both Montreal and Toronto city councils have called on Ottawa to implement bans on handguns and assault weapons. But opponents — including the Opposition Conservatives — argue it would do little to improve public safety.
Rathjen said groups were given about one week's notice of the federal consultation, meaning certain experts are not able to attend.
"We're really hoping they are serious and that there's going to be legislation and changes that will tabled and adopted before the next election cycle," Rathjen said.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press