Editorial: Public shootings hit closer to home

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The recent tragic shooting at the victory party for Quebec’s new PQ premier, Pauline Marois, was highly disturbing — well beyond the fact that it left innocent victims in its wake. Although details about the shooter’s exact motives are still somewhat sketchy, the event was disturbing because in Canada, we’d like to believe the citizenry is above resorting to violence to solve disputes or make political points.

While this shooting incident is a rare example of public gun violence in our country, and it is probable that the shooter was mentally disturbed, Quebec has had a long history of strained relations between its Anglophone and Francophone populations. The aftermath of the 1995 separation referendum certainly brought those tensions to the surface.

There are likely legitimate gripes on either side. No one wants to see suppression of their language and culture. But anyone with thoughts of violence should keep one thing in mind — if violent actions become more frequent and are legitimized by a society in order to depose one leader, it’s conceivable they’ll be used again to get rid of another.

Sadly, this is only one of several public shootings to make the headlines this year alone. The movie theatre in Aurora, Colo.: 12 dead, 58 injured. The Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.: six dead, four injured. Near the Empire State building in New York City: two dead, nine injured. The streets of Chicago, up to 19 injured within two days at the end of August. When shootings take place in America, they are chilling and tragic but distant from our day-to-day lives. It’s when they hit a bit closer to home that we need to reconsider not only our safety, but also our national identity. The Eaton Centre mall in Toronto: one killed, six injured. The July block party in Toronto: two dead, 23 injured. That’s only a few. Clearly, we can’t just sit back and shake our heads.

Then there are the blame games and debates. Are video games responsible? Violent movies and TV shows? Lack of proper mental health care? Religious and political extremists? Bullies? Retaliation? Will we ever really nail it down to one cause, or is it a combination of contributing factors? Shootings are often described as senseless, but so is finger-pointing when it only targets the most obvious entity that might be at fault. We may have to admit there are a number of issues in society that could be causing individuals to commit horrific acts of violence. Let’s open up the discussion to include everyone and anything, not just those who sell guns or make video games.

Let’s open up the discussion to include the federal government.

The bill to end Canada’s long-gun registry received royal assent in April of this year, decriminalizing non-registration of long guns in this country. But Quebec — the province most recently shaken by public gun violence, and also the province hardest-hit by the Montreal massacre of 1989  — is fighting to the keep the registry data. The province wants to use the data that has already been collected to start its own provincial gun registry. The federal government wants to destroy the data and has fought Quebec every step of the way. On Sept. 10, Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard of the Quebec Superior Court ordered the federal government to hand over registry data to the province. The judge singled out Stephen Harper for saying he had no intention of helping another level of government create a long-gun registry. The judge ruled that such a hardline approach undermines the very nature of co-operative federalism.

You may be for a gun registry or against it, but when a province has clearly demonstrated that its citizens support a specific measure to curb violence, should the federal government try to stand in its way? Just as the reasons for public shootings are myriad, perhaps the approaches to dealing with such violence should be varied. Perhaps the solutions should come from discussion at the community, regional and provincial level. Perhaps the federal government should listen to what comes out of those discussions instead of bullishly forcing its will onto citizens. Let’s talk about violence, and let’s make sure no one silences that discussion.

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