Survivors implore Senate to pass gun reform bill despite 'loud' lobby resistance
Heidi Rathjen, a survivor of the École Polytechnique shooting, accompanied by other survivors and family members of victims of gun violence in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018.
Published Monday, December 3, 2018 12:36PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 3, 2018 2:23PM EST
OTTAWA – A group of gun violence survivors and their families are on Parliament Hill imploring the Senate to speed up its study and passage of the government's gun reform bill.
At a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, the group, which includes the families of victims of shootings at the École Polytechnique, Dawson College, and Quebec City mosque, pushed for amendments to the Liberals' legislation, leaning on Senators to make changes that they argue MPs were too swayed by the gun lobby to make.
Some of those at the news conference have come to Ottawa over a few occasions, pushing for tougher gun reform. Back in November 2017, the group was in town to call on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to table promised gun control legislation.
He did so a few months later, with Bill C-71, which includes measures to broaden background checks for gun owners, toughens rules around the transportation of handguns, and tightens record keeping requirements for the sale of firearms. The legislation also revamps the current way guns are classified in Canada.
The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate in September, where it has since remained at second reading.
Heidi Rathjen, a survivor of the École Polytechnique shooting, cited the recent accelerated passage of Bill C-89, the Canada Post back-to-work legislation, saying they know that Parliament can act quickly when there is political will.
"So it's hard for us to stand here and be patient when we have been waiting for gun control legislation for over three years, and while gun related violence keeps claiming more lives," Rathjen said.
Specifically, they'd like to see the Senate advance their study, strengthen the bill with amendments, and see it pass as soon as possible.
Senators have debated it nearly a dozen times with no movement towards it being passed onto the committee study stage.
Rathjen called Bill C-71 the "minimum" the government could have done to meet their election promises on the gun file, saying that MPs have been swayed by pressure from pro-gun advocates in Canada who have taken considerable issue with the legislation.
"We understand the pressure MPs are under when they face organized opposition, threatening to defeat their reelection, however this should not be the case with the Senate. Senators do not need to worry about being reelected, and their main purpose is to provide sober second thought, especially now that the majority of the Senate has been depoliticized," Rathjen said.
One example of the opposition to the legislation was an Alberta teenager’s e-petition calling for the bill to be scrapped, saying it "does nothing to tackle firearms violence, but rather adds further red-tape on law abiding firearms owners." The online parliamentary petition amassed over 86,000 signatures.
During the first day of debate on the bill, Senate sponsor Sen. Andre Pratte told his colleagues that his office would be organizing briefings on the main components of the bill, as well as on the broader topics of gun violence and gun control.
The Senate debate has included questions over the impacts the bill will have on the lawful gun owning community, and musings about amendments, noting it's a sensitive topic.
"There's no reason why you can’t listen to the experts, respect the will of the majority of the country, and maximize public safety, we're counting on you… this is your chance to show us what legislators can do when they’re not afraid of a very loud but still very small minority," said Megan Hennigan, a survivor of the Dawson College shooting.
Bill to go to committee in 'days': sponsor
In an interview with CTVNews.ca on Monday, Senate sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Andre Pratte, said that he understands the group's impatience and he shares it.
Pratte attended the news conference and met with the group afterwards on the Hill. He said he is hoping to see Bill C-71 pass into committee stage in the "next few days," but certainly before the Senate rises for the holiday break mid-December.
"I am confident that it will pass, eventually," said Pratte, estimating it'll be through the upper chamber this winter or early spring.
Pratte said that the time Bill C-71 is taking to work its way through is not unusual for a bill of this kind, especially considering there is considerable opposition to it amongst Conservative senators. Though, Pratte said that he doesn’t think there has been, or will be, a concerted effort from that caucus to stall it, despite having the tools to do so if they so choose.
He also denied that the slowness is attributable to pressure from the pro-gun lobby, but acknowledged those against further gun controls have been very active.
"Many Senators have received a lot of emails and correspondence… but that's normal for a piece of legislation that is controversial," Pratte said.
Pratte's office organized briefings on the main components of the bill, as well as on the broader topics of gun violence and gun control, in an effort to listen and understand both sides of the sensitive topic.
During debate on the bill he described the legislation as "sensible, practical and fair," though he told CTVNews.ca he thinks the bill should be stronger, but is aware that dramatically amending the bill wouldn’t be of use if the changes end up being rejected by the government.
"We are aware of the political realities, we know that there are things that the government wants to do and others that they don't want to do, so we have to take this into account," Pratte said, speaking to the question of whether unelected senators are more immune to the political pressures faced by elected MPs.