Montreal massacre anniversary reignites gun control debate

OTTAWA — The 21st anniversary of the Montreal massacre reignited political combat over gun control Monday.

OTTAWA — The 21st anniversary of the Montreal massacre reignited political combat over gun control Monday.

The Harper government came under fire for last week’s decision to delay — for the third time — regulations that police say are essential to quickly trace guns used in crimes.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the timing of the decision demonstrates the Conservatives’ insensitivity to the national trauma caused by the 1989 tragedy, in which Marc Lepine gunned down 14 female engineering students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.

“They just don’t understand how deeply wounding this massacre was to the psyche of Canadian women and Canadian men, moms and dads alike,” Ignatieff said after taking part in a Parliament Hill ceremony honouring the victims.

“The idea that young women could be singled out and systematically massacred for no other reason than that they were women . . . has just marked Canada forever and the Conservatives simply don’t understand what that did to us.”

The massacre prompted the Liberal government of the day to introduce strict new gun-control measures, including the controversial gun registry.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to scrap the registry but his minority government has so far been stymied by the three opposition parties. A Tory private member’s bill to eliminate the registry came within a whisker of passing last September, with the support of a half-dozen New Democrats.

Last week, gun enthusiasts applauded the latest delay in implementing firearms-marking regulations, which were created by the Liberal government in 2004 and originally supposed to come into force in 2006. Sports shooters are openly hoping the regulations will be put off repeatedly until Harper wins a majority and can scrap them altogether.

In the Commons, government House leader John Baird said the Tories are committed to implementing “meaningful gun control that actually works and makes those communities safer.”

And he blasted the Liberals for allegedly blocking the government’s tough-on-crime bills, most of which have died repeatedly on the order paper after Harper prorogued Parliament.

“The reality is that the leader of the Liberal party . . . is just not credible on crime,” Baird declared. “Whenever this government brings forward measures to get tough on violent offenders who cause havoc in our communities, the Liberal party always stands up and votes against them.”

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said the latest delay in implementing the firearms-marking regulations is intended to give the government more time to consult with various stakeholders.

But Wendy Cukier, president of the Coalition for Gun Control, said the government has already conducted in-depth consultations, in which she took part.

The regulations are supposed to bring Canada into compliance with international protocols requiring import marks on firearms, in addition to the serial numbers or firearms identification numbers currently required in Canada.

The three associations representing police in Canada have said import marks would help police to speedily trace weapons used in crime and to determine whether such guns have been smuggled into the country or produced domestically.

Baird seemed to dismiss that argument Monday, saying every firearm already is required to have a unique marking.

Harper was not in the Commons. But he issued a statement deploring the Montreal massacre as “one of the most heinous acts of violence in Canadian history.” He said the best way to honour the victims is “by working to eliminate violence against women while making our communities safer for all Canadians.”

By contrast, Ignatieff said the best memorial is “strict, relentless gun control.”

“It’s the contribution that we can make to keep everybody safe but especially young women.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe issued a statement exhorting the government to implement the gun-marking regulations and end its campaign to undermine the gun registry.

Conservatives were conspicuously absent from a solemn ceremony marking the anniversary on Parliament Hill, where flags were lowered to half-mast. The event was organized by the Liberal women’s caucus but representatives from the Bloc Quebecois and NDP participated, along with some survivors of the massacre and representatives of various gun-control and women’s groups.

Michel Liboiron, a spokesman for Ignatieff, said no Conservative was invited because survivors, upset with the government’s stance on the gun registry, indicated they’d boycott the event if Tories were involved.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said particular attention needs to be paid to aboriginal women who face “staggering” rates of violence, aggravated by extreme poverty and discrimination.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston called the massacre “a black mark on our history” and challenged Canadians to work together to end all forms of violence against women.

“On this day, we will act,” Johnston said in a written statement.

“We will push back against prejudice, fight against unfairness and refuse to turn a blind eye on such deplorable deeds.”