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Quebec Muslim leaders call for federal handgun ban in letters to Legault, Trudeau

MONTREAL — Just days before the fifth anniversary of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, the leadership of the Islamic centre where the tragedy occurred called for a Canada-wide ban on handguns.

MONTREAL — Just days before the fifth anniversary of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, the leadership of the Islamic centre where the tragedy occurred called for a Canada-wide ban on handguns.

They sent letters to the federal and Quebec governments, urging all sides to make sure that any new gun control legislation is applied across the country. Ottawa has signalled it wanted to give individual provinces the ability to enact handgun bans, but the mosque leaders say the problem of gun violence is national.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, leadership of the Islamic Cultural Centre asked the government to abandon its idea of putting a handgun ban in the hands of the provinces.

"If we are writing to you today, it is to beg you to stop your efforts to absolve the federal government of responsibility for the handgun issue," wrote Boufeldja Benabdallah and Mohamed Khabar, reminding the Trudeau government that it is the "responsibility of the federal government to legislate in this direction so that the process is implemented by you from coast to coast."

In a separate letter to Quebec Premier François Legault and Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault, mosque representatives said the province should "not to allow the federal government to shirk responsibility for the handgun issue."

The federal Liberal government had initially planned to give municipalities the ability to ban guns on their territories, but that bill never passed. In November, the federal government said in its throne speech it would "support … the provinces and territories that want to ban handguns in their jurisdictions."

No province, including Quebec, has expressed an interest in overseeing a handgun ban, the letter noted. 

"Even if the Government of Quebec decided to ban handguns on its territory, their proliferation in the rest of Canada would continue: it would, after all, be a ban on only one of the thirteen Canadian jurisdictions," the letter to the province read.

The Legault government has previously been urged to show support for a national handgun ban, notably by friends of Thomas Trudel, a teenager shot dead last year in Montreal.

The letters were made public during a gun control webinar held Wednesday evening. The event was one of a series of ceremonies organized by the Islamic Cultural Centre and community groups ahead of Saturday's anniversary.

Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane and Aboubaker Thabti were killed by a gunman shortly after concluding evening prayers on Jan. 29, 2017. Five others were wounded.  

They were shot with a 9mm Glock pistol during a period of about two minutes. The shooter had at least five other weapons, including three assault rifles. All the weapons in his possession were acquired legally.

"It is absolutely harmful and shameful to note that in five years, nothing has been done to change the circumstances that allowed this individual to acquire or keep such an arsenal," mosque leaders wrote. "In other words, an individual with the same profile could today own the same weapons and accessories."

While assault weapons have been banned federally as of May 2020, those that were in circulation before that date remain in the hands of owners while they await details of a federal buyback program.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press