Polytechnique survivor wants Liberals to move on gun control promise

The evening of Dec. 6, 1989 is a night few in Quebec will ever forget especially those who were at the Ecole Polytechnique when gunshots rang out leaving 14 female students dead and 13 injured.

Heidi Rathjen was there, and has become an activist for gun control in the three decades since Canada's worst school shooting.

"I was part of the students that decided to fight back in some way," said Rathjen. "We know there are lots of factors that contributed to this tragedy. One thing for sure is that he carried it out with a legally acquired, Ruger Mini-14 with two 30-bullet ammunition clips and without it he couldn't have done so much damage."

Rathjen was among those who advanced a petition for gun control which garnered a half-million signatures.

"We thought we had done our job and the politicians do theirs after we presented it to them," she said. "That wasn't the case."

Rathjen left her engineering career and co-founded the Coalition for Gun Control. While she left that organization in 1996 she has continued her advocacy with PolySeSouvient. 

Rathjen is critical of Justin Trudeau's Liberal government for what she sees as a lack of action on gun control.

"They really did the minimum and they were able to do that because their promises were pretty vague and it was more of a question of interpretation," said Rathjen.

She was also one of several gun control advocates who supported the Liberals in this year's election because of what they see as a more clear promise to ban assault weapons and buy them back.

"We're thrilled about this," she said adding that the Green, NDP and Bloc Quebecois parties support the promise. "There's no reason why it can't happen in this mandate and soon."

The coalition sent a letter to newly appointed Public Safety Minister Bill Blair asking for a moratorium on assault weapon sales since they will be banned in the future.

Rathjen said the coalition knows there are responsible gun owners, and only wants what she called reasonable gun laws.

"We're not against gun ownership that's controlled. Guns used for hunting for legitimate purposes, but handguns that are easily concealable and are a favourite of criminals as well as assault weapons which are designed to kill people have no place in the hands of private citizens. Those are the weapons we want to ban," she said.