Emile Tremblay, left to right, Alice Benoit, Luna Vadlamudy and Raphael Laurence pose in Montreal, Tuesday, December 21, 2021. The close friends of a slain Montreal teen killed in an apparently random act of gun violence last month have banded together in an effort to change gun laws. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes.

Friends of slain Montreal teen seek Legault’s support for federal handgun ban

Friends of slain Montreal teen seek Legault’s support for federal handgun ban

MONTREAL — Close friends of a Montreal teen killed in an apparently random act of gun violence last month have banded together in an effort to push the federal government to ban handguns.

The group, called Ensemble pour Thomas, is named in memory of Thomas Trudel, a 16-year-old Montrealer who was gunned down as he walked home from a park in mid-November in the city’s St-Michel neighbourhood.

No one has been arrested in Trudel’s killing, one of at least three deaths involving teenagers this year that has prompted a push for tougher gun laws and calls for action to deal with youth violence.

Ensemble for Thomas was created by four high school students who were close to Trudel, and it aims to bring together young people to advocate for tougher handgun rules and a clampdown on handgun trafficking.

Luna Vadlamudy, one of the group’s founders, told The Canadian Press Tuesday that their first order of business was to send a letter the day before to Quebec Premier François Legault, urging a clearer position from him on banning handguns and support for their own quest to bring about a federal ban.

The federal Liberals pledged in their throne speech last month to work with provinces that want to ban handguns, a shift from the Trudeau government’s initial plan to give individual municipalities that responsibility.

Raphael Laurence said the close circle of friends decided to start a group to show they were with Trudel. “After his death, we decided it couldn’t happen again,” Laurence said in an interview outside École Joseph-François-Perrault, the high school frequented by Trudel.

“We didn’t want anyone else to live through what the school, the community, the neighbourhood endured.”

In the letter to Legault, the group welcomed recent investments by Quebec to fight illegal gun trafficking but called out the back-and-forth between the federal and provincial governments.

“We believe, like many others, that handguns should be banned at the national level and not just in Quebec,” they wrote. “We want the government of Quebec to endorse this position and communicate it to the federal government.”

Alice Benoit, another member of the group, said there shouldn’t have to be another tragedy for the governments to act. “They must act now,” she said. “It shouldn’t happen again, in Montreal, in Quebec, in Canada. It’s too much.”

The group has met with Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, who has called for a federal ban and tighter border controls. In the aftermath of Trudel’s death, Plante announced plans to hold a forum on reducing gun violence in the city in late January.

The mayor has said that while provincial bans are an option, a national standard would be the most coherent and efficient solution, something Ensemble pour Thomas agrees with.

Émile Tremblay pointed to polling that showed seven in 10 Canadians are in favour of a pan-Canadian ban, something that would require Criminal Code amendments.

“So that means not only provincial, but federal, right across Canada,” Tremblay said. “That’s why we’re aiming big, because we all deserve to be in security, whether we’re in Quebec or not.”

The group is also hoping to attract more young people to its cause — those who’ve lost friends and those who just want to support their effort — setting up a wide-range of social media accounts for them to get in touch.

“It’s by gathering as many young voices that we will make ourselves heard,” Laurence said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press