The father of the Sault woman killed in October’s mass shooting has travelled to Montreal to help the survivors mark the 34th anniversary of the Montreal massacre, a mass femicide that occurred in 1989 at École Polytechnique and claimed the lives of 14 women.
Brian Sweeney, father of intimate partner violence victim Angie Sweeney, has also penned a letter that will be sent to all Canadian senators, urging them to vote in favour of strengthening Canada’s gun control laws.
“Domestic violence is an epidemic and governments are not doing enough to prevent it,” Sweeney wrote in the letter. “That’s why I promised Angie that I wouldn’t stop until laws in this country are strengthened to stop domestic murders."
In less than two months since the killing of his daughter and another three children, Sweeney has spoken at Sault Ste. Marie City Council, a Women in Crisis Night of Remembrance and even crashed an event at the Legion in the Sault in order to introduce himself to the prime minister. Through his Facebook group Angie’s Angels, Sweeney has provided direct support to women fleeing domestic violence and is building a dream team to help him lobby the provincial and federal governments to strengthen the laws around intimate partner violence.
The Senate will soon make the final vote on Bill C-21, which was passed by the House of Commons in the spring. The bill seeks to amend parts of the Criminal Code and Firearms Act, among others.
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.
“Angie’s killer had criminal history that included domestic abuse,” Sweeney said in his letter. “He assaulted a police officer and was prohibited from owning a gun – but only for a year. No prohibition related to domestic abuse. Since the prohibition order ran out, he had access to firearms even if he didn’t have a licence. People knew it because he took part in hunting expeditions.”
Hallaert killed Angie Sweeney, as well as his own children Nate, Ally and Abbie Hallaert, at two different scenes on the night of Oct. 23. Last week, Sault Police reported Bobbie Hallaert did not have a licence to possess or acquire firearms, and police are still investigating how he obtained the two weapons seized at one of the crime scenes.
Police were called to Angie's house in the days before the attack and Hallaert was on a no contact order. Sweeney said that no contact order was breached earlier in the day his daughter was killed, and he alleges the gunman was high on meth at the time.
"I am angry. How does a man, with a history of intimate partner violence, assaulting a police officer and drug abuse get away with owning guns? People knew he had some," said Sweeney in the letter. "Why did the police let him go free in his drugged state, instead of detaining him for 48 hours? Why didn’t they search his house for guns? Were all the reg flags not enough for police to take serious action?"
"Angie’s death, like that of all victims, leaves behind a trail of broken hearts and broken lives," he added.
Fourteen women were killed by a gunman on Dec. 6, 1989 at École Polytechnique in Montreal. Sweeney plans to speak at a memorial service to be held later this afternoon at Mount Royal.
Serge St-Arneault is the brother of Montreal massacre victim Annie St-Arneault. In an email, he said it is expected to be an emotional moment when he meets Sweeney later today.
“As a proud and peaceful Canadian, you never expect to lose a sibling or a child to gun violence. To suddenly lose one’s loved one in such a horrific and violent manner is something you never recover from,” said St-Arneault. “We not only share their grief but also their goal of preventing similar tragedies. Already, we can see that Brian and others who also loved Angie are working hard to that end. We will support them in any way we can.”
— with files from The Canadian Press