By Serge St-Arneault
On the last day of classes of the fall school semester, my sister Annie was assassinated in a classroom with a legal military-style assault weapon at the Montréal Polytechnique engineering university.
Since that day, my family and many others have been working to remove assault weapons from our communities and our streets. This has never been achieved, not even during the decade-long period when the long-gun registry was in effect (which was later abolished by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government).
Since then, many innocent people have been injured or killed by assault weapons, most of them legally acquired and owned under Canadian law, including the one used in the Dawson College school shooting.
In any sane world, these weapons would be limited to the military.
Of course, we are not close to experiencing the gun carnage that is ravaging communities across the United States. Nearly 40,000 Americans are killed by guns every year. That’s one murder every fifteen minutes. Unfortunately for Canadians, we have our own home-grown “NRA” and are increasingly mimicking the US culture that values guns over lives.
Both shootings of a 15-year-old girl in Montreal on February 7th and of a 14-year-old girl in Toronto on February 12th testify to that.
In 2019 fall election, the Liberal Party of Canada finally committed to banning military-style assault weapons. They also promised to buy-back “all” existing ones. The families cheered and told Canadians the Liberals had the strongest position of all political parties. They got elected on those commitments.
Six months later, on May 1st, Prime Minister Trudeau unveiled a series of Orders in Council that made it illegal “to buy, sell, transport, import or use military-grade assault weapons in this country”. This was to be followed by an “evergreen law” to complete the ban and make it permanent.
We thought we had won. Canada was heading in the right direction, reflecting the polls that invariably show 80% of Canadians support banning these weapons. One mid-May Environics Research poll showed that even despite the pandemic, a clear majority still want the Liberals to move forward with the mandatory buyback — as was done in New Zealand and Australia following their own mass shootings.
« An elephant giving birth to a mouse. » This pretty much sums up what happened on the morning of February 16th.
Bill C-21 was going to pave the way for a bold long-awaited reform that would lead to a complete and permanent removal from the Canadian landscape of the weapons of choice for mass murders.
Sadly, all the pomp and circumstance, assorted with dramatic talking points, were nothing but hollow theatrics and a missed opportunity to finally end the protracted and painful national gun control debate.
While Chrystia Freeland tweeted that with Bill C-21, “the government introduced legislation that will fulfill our commitment to take the most dangerous guns off our streets and out of our communities”, the Liberals decided to back out of their promise and instead rely on the goodwill of gun owners to surrender their assault weapons or to keep them and never, ever shoot them again, as that would no longer be “allowed”.
The same weapons that Trudeau described as being « designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time”, adding, “There is no use and no place for such weapons in Canada.”
Of all people, Mr. Trudeau should know that as long as these weapons remain in circulation, they represent an unacceptable safety risk. Indeed, Corey Hurren, the 46-year-old Manitoba Reservist, licensed gun owner and avowed QAnon follower had in possession at least one of these newly prohibited weapons — part of the arsenal he had with him as he rammed his truck through the gates of Rideau Hall last July. His plan was to “arrest” the Prime Minister because of COVID-19 restrictions and … the recent prohibition of assault weapons. This man left behind a letter in which he wrote that “he hopes his children would understand his actions”.
With Bill C-21, tens of thousands of semi-automatic assault-style weapons will remain in private hands. Similar tragedies can and will happen again.
If owners choose to keep their weapons, it won’t be because they will have accepted that from now on these will forever be useless “souvenirs” from the good old days. No. They will keep them because they know full well that, armed with a little patience, the day will come when an O’Toole-led Conservative government will repeal the ban, as he has already pledged he would do.
And when that happens, we will be back at square one.
Except, we have no more energy to fight. We cannot continue to engage in this never-ending battle.
If passed, Bill C-21 will bring about the end of our three-decade-long battle for gun control that began on December 6, 1989.
And from then on, at every anniversary, during every commemorative ceremony, gun victims and their families — past, present and future — will remember the Trudeau government’s ominous capitulation to the gun lobby.