Pass federal gun bill without delay, father of Ontario shooting victim urges senators
The father of a woman who was fatally shot in October by her former partner is urging senators to pass a federal gun-control bill without delay. Brian Sweeney, right, father of shooting victim Angie Sweeney, speaks on stage during candlelight vigil, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Robert Davies
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 6, 2023 6:46AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 6, 2023 2:48PM EST
MONTREAL - As ceremonies mark the 34th anniversary of the massacre of 14 women in Montreal, the father of a woman who was fatally shot in October by her former partner is urging senators to pass a gun-control bill without delay.
In a letter sent this week to members of the upper chamber, Brian Sweeney says the legislation contains crucial measures that would improve the way police deal with domestic violence cases involving firearms.
“Implementing these measures is urgent,” Sweeney says in the letter, made available to The Canadian Press. “The bill is the result of years of advocacy from victims and women's groups, and women have died while the bill has been debated.”
Sweeney's daughter Angie was shot by her former partner Bobbie Hallaert after he broke into her home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., two months ago. Hallaert proceeded to a second home and killed three of his own children and injured another woman, who survived. The gunman then took his own life.
“Angie's death, like that of all victims, leaves behind a trail of broken hearts and broken lives,” Sweeney says.
He plans to be in Montreal Wednesday to help families and survivors mark the anniversary of the grim day in 1989 when a man with a Ruger Mini-14 killed 14 women at the city's Ecole Polytechnique, now known as Polytechnique Montreal.
“The 14 victims and my Angie deserve better than our current laws and procedures,” Sweeney says. “Three innocent children also paid the price of our failed system.”
Police probing the Sault Ste. Marie shootings said late last month they were trying to determine how Hallaert obtained the SKS rifle and .38-calibre revolver seized during their investigation. He did not have a current firearms licence at the time of the shootings.
Sault police have confirmed the offender was involved in intimate partner investigations in the past.
The federal bill would usher in new measures to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, reinforce a freeze on handguns, increase penalties for firearm trafficking and move to curb homemade ghost guns. The bill also includes a ban on assault-style firearms that fall under a new technical definition. It would apply to such guns designed and manufactured after the bill comes into force.
Gun-control groups such as PolySeSouvient, which includes students and graduates of the Montreal engineering school, want to see the bill become law. Conservative MPs and some gun owners have said the legislation is misguided and penalizes law-abiding Canadians.
Members of a Senate committee have been reviewing the bill clause by clause, but it is expected to return to the full upper chamber soon.
“There is no reasonable justification to delay the adoption and implementation of these measures,” Sweeney says in his letter. “So I am begging you to vote it through as soon as it hits the Senate floor for third reading.”
Sweeney expresses anger in his letter that someone with Hallaert's history could have access to guns.
“Domestic violence is an epidemic and governments are not doing enough to prevent it,” he writes.
“That's why I promised Angie that I wouldn't stop until the laws in this country are strengthened to stop domestic murders. I especially want to get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning in Montreal, a small group of Polytechnique Montreal students and administrators gathered on the school's campus to commemorate the women whose lives were cut short in the anti-feminist attack exactly 34 years prior.
Ceremony participants laid flowers at a granite memorial plaque bearing the names of the 14 massacre victims: Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michele Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.
A minute of silence followed.
“This day over the years has become really a symbol for the memories of these young ladies who lost their lives,” Polytechnique Montreal president Maud Cohen said in an interview after the ceremony. The anniversary also serves as a reminder of the importance of making the school - and society as a whole - “as welcoming as it should be for young ladies, but everyone that â€¦ aspires to become an engineer,” she said.
For Polytechnique Montreal energy engineering student Beatrice Cyr, the anniversary is an occasion to reflect on social progress and the women before her who were denied the opportunities and sense of security she has enjoyed in her field.
Cyr said that because the massacre occurred before she was born, she doesn't think about it every day. “But I think that's a good thing because I study here and I'm just passionate about what I do and I feel good here,” she said. “I feel welcome. I feel like I have my place”
“But when it comes to this week, to this day, it's very heavy to think about” how the 14 massacre victims “could not have my chance to pursue my passion and to pursue engineering.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.
with files from Thomas MacDonald in Montreal.