3:35 pm - 12/06/2012
Marc Lépine walked into Montreal’s École Polytechnique 23 years ago Friday afternoon, carrying a garbage bag with a gun inside.
He was hunting women.
He shot the first one, Maryse Laganière, in the hall. He then proceeded to classroom 303, where he demanded the female students be separated from the men.
“I want the women. You’re all a bunch of feminists,” he said. He lined the girls up against the wall and shot them.
“I hate feminists.”
By the time he was done, Lépine had murdered 14 women. He then turned his gun on himself.
That gun, a Sturm Ruger Mini-14, was a semi-automatic hunting rifle. Lépine bought it at a sports store in downtown Montreal two weeks before. He told the store clerk he was going after “just small game.”
It was easy for Lépine to buy that gun. He needed only to show he had no record of violent crime or mental health problems and hand over $10. That got him a firearms acquisition certificate. The gun and ammunition cost him $765. If he’d had more money, he could have bought a bouquet of guns and no one would have known.
“When I found out they were selling military weapons to civilians, I was completely shocked,” says Wendy Cukier. “There were six million rifles and shotguns in Canada and no one knew who had them. It was completely irrational. You have no control if you have no information.”
Cukier is the vice-president of research and innovation at Ryerson University’s school of management. She is also the president of the country’s gun control lobby. She launched the Coalition for Gun Control in the weeks following the Montreal Massacre.
Because of Cukier and her coalition, it’s slightly harder to get a rifle or shotgun in Canada 23 years later.
You need to take a training course, for one. You need to renew your licence every five years and produce it to buy ammunition. When you apply for a licence, your spouse is alerted.
Because of Cukier, every legal long gun in Canada was registered. That meant that unlike in Lépine’s era, police knew who owned 7.1 million rifles and shotguns.
Until last month. That’s when Public Safety Minster Vic Toews’ spokesperson announced gleefully that those records, except the ones from Quebec, had been destroyed.
The government, she said, was proud.
What’s worse, this year the Conservative government cut any screening that happened at the gun sales counter. Sales clerks no longer have to verify a gun licence before selling a rifle or shotgun. And the government has forbidden them from recording the names of purchasers, a law that had been in place for 35 years. So, the police trail on any rifle or shotgun will now go cold at the hunting shop.
Gun owners will no longer be hounded by bureaucracy. They can freely hunt their small game.
The gun lobby has always argued that the registry would not have saved those 14 young women. It wouldn’t have prevented Lépine from carrying out his deranged plan.
They are right. Police didn’t need to trace that gun back to Lépine. They found it near his body.
But the registry saved the lives of many, many other women. By Cukier’s count, statistically, it has saved more than 600 lives every year in Canada.
“That’s a fairly significant drop,” Cukier told me from her office at Ryerson. “If you achieved a reduction of 50 per cent of people killed in any other circumstance — cancer, car crashes — people would proclaim it a huge success and ask what else we could do.”
Take the Sudbury woman breaking up with her husband in January. Newspaper accounts say he roared away from police, distraught, with a shotgun in his car. When police found him at home, their search turned up three guns. But the registry revealed he had another. Police removed a 12-gauge shotgun two days later. Perhaps he wouldn’t have used any of those guns. But maybe, just maybe, he would have.
Then, there’s Heather Imming, the Ottawa woman whose former husband Bill beat her with a tire iron to within an inch of her life. The reason he didn’t kill her, she says, is police had seized his two guns — an AK-47 and another long gun.
“I firmly believe that if they hadn’t taken the guns, I would not be here,” she told the Star two years ago.
Then there is Arlene May. She was a single mom in Craigleith, Ont., shot in the chest twice by her estranged lover Randy Iles in 1996. He was on bail for a laundry list of heinous charges against her.
One of his conditions was not to have any firearms. But the Oshawa gun dealer didn’t verify his permit, so no flags went off, and that was that. May became small game.
As Cukier says, more regulation means more safety. I hate bureaucracy as much as any other person, except when it could save my life.
Every Dec. 6 since Lépine walked into the Polytechnique is a sorrowful day. But this year’s unstitching of its legacy makes it doubly tragic.
“I just hope we don’t have to witness another tragedy for Canadians to know what is at stake,” Cukier says.
Cukier will go to a memorial today, as she does every year. She says she will keep on fighting against the Conservative plan to dismantle what’s left of gun control in this country.
We should all help her.
wiki page on the massacre