I started working on this blog post a couple of weeks ago and was glad I didn’t complete it before getting the news that Bill C-71 had been passed by the Senate, without amendment, and was now the law in the land!
This was the good news that I and many others, including the group Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns (CDPG) had been waiting for. It was political news that had become very personal.
It became so with the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We heard the news at around 11 p.m. on March 14. It was already the afternoon of March 15, and the only news was that all of the schools in Christchurch were on “lock down.” Our first thoughts: Was our son Jeremy, who teaches in Christchurch, ok? What about his wife, Jieun? Was she at home or in the community? We contacted them through our family Facebook page and learned that they were safe as was everyone they knew, many of whom are also teachers. Huge relief.
Yes, Facebook faced a lot of criticism, especially after it aired the video taken by the gunman in Christchurch, but we were thankful for the speed at which we could get good news through the platform.
Over the next few days we all learned the extent of this massacre. Fifty people, men, women, and children, had been killed in two mosques where they’d gathered for Friday prayers. Many more were injured. Within one day New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement that her country’s gun laws would change. Those changes, which took the gun laws from lax to much tougher, were finalized within a few weeks. What about Canada’s gun laws? What could be done to make them tighter? Canada has had its share of gun-related tragedies, including mass shootings. I wanted to know what could be done to toughen Canada’s gun laws.
After some research, I learned that while our gun laws are tougher than New Zealand’s were, there was pending legislation that would make them tougher. I also learned about the group Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns (CDPG). Dr. Najma Ahmed, a trauma surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto treated the victims of the gun violence when 13 people were shot in a peaceful evening in the city in July 2018. She and many doctors across the country became increasingly upset by all of gun violence they were treating and formed CDPG in February 2019. The group organized a Day of Action on April 3, with letter-writing campaigns and rallies in 13 cities across Canada. Joining the rally in Kingston, ON was my opportunity to take action of my own.
That Day of Action was the tipping point. Several major newspapers, including the Globe and Mail, and The Winnipeg Free Press published editorials hailing the actions of CDPG and urging the government to act swiftly to change our laws.
With C-71 now having been passed, CDPG and its supporters, including me, can be joyful, but we cannot rest on our laurels. There is more to do: working towards a complete ban on handguns and assault weapons and it’s not an easy fight. (When are fights ever easy?)
There has been a lot of push-back from gun lobbyists who believe that our gun laws are already strict enough and C-71 will further erode their rights. There was further protest from the gun lobbyists following the Day of Action, using a well-worn phrase from gun lobbyists in the US telling the doctors to “stay in their own lane”. Dr. Ahmed had a perfect response to this:
“From our lane we will treat the victims of gun violence and quite literally sew back together the shattered organs, vessels and lives torn apart by bullets fired by guns.”
The gun lobbyists also petitioned the Ontario College of Physician and Surgeons complaining about Dr. Ahmed but those complaints have been dismissed. No doubt there will be continued protests to any further changes to Canada’s gun laws. That will make the work of the CDPG even more important. It will continue, as will mine. Before and since Bill C-71 was passed, I was able to have some good conversations with my MP, Mike Bossio. He took the time to call me, and send an email saying that while Bill C-71 isn’t perfect, it will make our communities safer while protecting the rights of legitimate gun owners, including himself. I think he’s right.
Mass shootings are unfortunately all too common but none hit as close to home as the Christchurch shooting. The personal is political. The political is personal.