One of the legacies of the Montreal massacre in 1989 was Canada's new gun control law. The students, faculty and administration of École Polytechnique, the families of the victims, and groups from across the country joined to advocate for stricter laws.
CAUT was among the groups endorsing the work of the Coalition for Gun Control along with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Labour Congress, the YWCA of Canada and other organizations from across the country.
Their efforts paid off. Bill C-17 was introduced in 1991 and offered some improvements to the law although many felt it did not go far enough. The petition initiated by Concordia University which called for a ban on handguns following tragic shootings of Michael Hogben, Matthew Douglass, Jaan Saber and Phoivos Ziogas on Aug. 24, 1992 added impetus to the movement.
New firearms legislation, Bill C-68, was announced in 1994 and after a protracted struggle was proclaimed on Dec. 6, 1995. It requires all gun owners to be screened and licensed (by 2001) and all guns to be registered (by 2003). It prohibits small barreled handguns, although current owners were grandfathered. It responds to the recommendations of six separate inquests. It brings Canada in line with most industrialized countries and the 1997 resolution of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.
However, the struggle for effective gun control did not end with the passage of the legislation. The gun lobby and its powerful allies continue to use everything at their disposal to fight the law. On Dec. 2, 1996 the province of Alberta launched a constitutional challenge to the law arguing that while handguns were inherently dangerous and within federal jurisdiction, rifles and shotguns or "ordinary" guns were private property and provincial responsibilities.
On June 15, 2000, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of the firearms law. It also maintained that: "The registration provisions cannot be severed from the rest of the Act. The licensing provisions require everyone who possesses a gun to be licensed; the registration provisions require all guns to be registered. These portions of the Firearms Act are both tightly linked to Parliament's goal of promoting safety by reducing the misuse of any and all firearms. Both portions are integral and necessary to the operation of the scheme."
Yet, opposition to the law persists. In the recent election, while the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois reiterated their support for the law, the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives pledged to repeal the law. In fact, last February, the Canadian Alliance, which has documented links to the gun lobby, passed a resolution reaffirming the right to arm, in spite of the fact that no such right exists in Canada. Although a Gallup Poll conducted Oct. 16-22, 2000 emphasized that seven out of 10 Canadians, a majority in every region, support registration of all firearms, candidates seemed to be tripping over each other in efforts to appease the gun lobby.
The parents of the victims of the murders at École Polytechnique have called the law "a monument to the memory of our daughters." Although we have come a long way since we began almost 11 years ago, the struggle to preserve this legacy is by no means over.
Wendy Cukier is a professor of justice studies and associate director of the school of information technology management at Ryerson Polytechnic University.
Currently, the position of the Coalition for Gun Control is endorsed by more than 350 organizations and over 12,000 individuals. For more information, visit the Coalition for Gun Control's web site at www.guncontrol.ca.