There was one big reason that, as a student, Wendy Vasquez decided to protest outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Montreal riding office on Friday.
“Because, unfortunately, mass shootings do happen in schools,” she said.
She was among a group of about 30 protesters who rallied for tougher gun control laws. They want to see action before the next federal election later this year.
“We want to ban handguns and assault weapons,” says Vasquez. “We also want Bill C-71 to pass, but not with the amendments that were made by the senatorial committee.”
The bill was tabled just over a year ago. It would expand the scope of background checks from five years to the applicant’s entire lifetime. But in early April, a Senate committee adopted changes that would remove the requirement for lifetime background checks.
It would also drop proposed restrictions on transporting restricted or prohibited firearms, among other changes.
“So they’re leaving key elements and making the Bill C-71 weaker,” Vasquez points out.
Federal ministers say, despite the proposed changes, the government’s intentions will be reflected in the final version of the legislation. The protesters want to hold the government to that.
“We want to send a clear message that the youth and the students from across Quebec and across Canada will hold the government accountable for its action and inaction with the next election,” said Guillaume Lecorps, president of the Quebec Student Union and one of the protest organizers.
For Vasquez, speaking out like this is personal because as an engineering student, mass shootings take on a special significance.
“It’s been in the engineering community since what happened at École Polytechnique,” she tells Global News. “It’s always been close to our history.”
Though she wasn’t even born when the 14 women, all engineering students, were gunned down, the incident isn’t far from her mind.
“We don’t know when will be the next mass shooting, but what we can do is reduce the risk.”
Lecorps agrees. “All we want is a safe space to study and live,” he says.
They and the other protesters say they’ll be watching closely how the government handles the issue.