Montrealers march to support Parkland teens

A month after Florida tragedy, hundreds of protesters demand gun control reform

“A year ago, I was sitting in the classrooms of Stoneman Douglas,” said Cyril Yared as he waited for the rally to begin. “I still have two sisters who are there.”

While millions have heard the horrific story of the Feb. 14 school shooting that took 17 lives in Parkland, Fla., for Yared, the tragedy is personal. Now a first-year McGill student, Yared graduated last year from Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD), the high school where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on teachers and classmates. While Yared’s sisters, who were both at school on the day of the shooting, were unharmed, Yared did know Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old girl who was killed by Cruz.

“I knew that one day the world would know her name—perhaps because she found the cure for cancer or some other extraordinary reason,” Yared said about Schentrup, whom he says remembers as a bright, ambitious student who took classes several grades ahead of her level. “She was left as evidence of another community shattered by the sound of gunshots.”

Yared was one of three Parkland residents who spoke at the rally in Cabot Square in downtown Montreal on March 24. Debbie Desmettre, a 1997 MSD graduate, and Ellen Malka, a mother of two MSD students, also gave stirring speeches.

“Our community, our peaceful little Parkland, was attacked,” Malka said. “These kids experienced things that nobody should ever have to.” She added that, while her children were not physically harmed in the shooting, one of them was traumatized by the sight of the victims’ bodies during the evacuation.

“Although this is an American issue, we feel it is our duty to stand in solidarity with our neighbours,” said Sophie Saidmehr, a McGill student and one of the two primary organizers of the local protest. “This is no longer a partisan issue; it is simply a question of our humanity.”

After the speeches, protesters marched along Ste-Catherine Street West and René-Lévesque Boulevard. Many protesters brandished signs with politically charged messages, including “Protect Children, Not Guns,” “Never Again” and  “We Call B.S.”—a reference to MSD student Emma Gonzalez’s now-famous speech given at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 17. Throughout the march, chants among the crowd included “Take no pay from the N.R.A.” and “Vote them out.”

The event, which gathered hundreds, was a sister march to the one held in Washington, D.C., which organizers estimate was attended by about 800,000 people, reported NBC News—300,000 more than originally predicted.

The protest, officially called March For Our Lives, was created in response to high rates of gun violence in the United States. According to Time, there have been 239 school shootings in the United States since 2014, resulting in 138 deaths. Many statisticians, activists and mass shooting survivors believe the astonishing rate of violence is connected to the country’s lax gun laws. In some states, weapons such as AR-15 style rifles can be purchased without a background check or waiting period.

For a long time, the cycle has seemed never-ending: another highly publicized, deadly mass shooting would occur, from Columbine to Las Vegas, and little political action would be taken after the news cycle ended. However, following the Parkland shooting, a number of teenage survivors voiced their outrage on social media and in the press, adopting the role of gun control advocates. In collaboration with the non-profit organization Everytown For Gun Safety, a number of MSD students, including Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and Sarah Chadwick, organized the original demonstration in the capital.

Since the protest was announced in the days following the Parkland shooting, more than 800 sibling marches were planned across the globe. Other Canadian cities, like Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and St-John’s, also participated.

Despite the topic of gun control often being labeled an “American issue,” some Montreal protesters handed out flyers opposing the fact that AR-15s, the weapon used in the Parkland and other high-profile shootings, are also legal in Canada. There are, however, tighter restrictions on these weapons here than in the United States, such as mandatory background checks and a cap on the number of ammunition rounds that can be owned at one time, set at five.

After just a few weeks, the Parkland shooting survivors have already made significant progress in passing Florida gun control legislation by pushing Senator Marco Rubio to endorse certain gun control measures. However, Yared said there is still work to be done, and it’s important that Canadian and American citizens who are concerned about this issue register to vote and speak with their government representatives.

“This march is just one step,” Yared said. “We just have to keep going forward […] We’ll have to fight at the polls to get the change that we want.”

Photos by Mackenzie Lad


#NeverAgain: A demand for change

Students-turned-activists fight back against gun violence in the United States

Yet another devastating mass shooting rocked the United States on Feb. 14. This time, it occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen lives were lost that day. Students who survived the school shooting decided to take immediate action and started protesting against gun violence in the United States.

We have seen an eruption of anger from these students, many of whom lost friends and teachers on that horrific day. Rather than staying home and grieving, they are channeling their outrage to give voice to the issue that devastated their school.

There is truly nothing more empowering than watching a group of teenagers speak up about gun control, form an alliance against politicians who are funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and spark a nation-wide movement now known as #NeverAgain.

Many Douglas High School students are advocating for change because they are tired of the normalization of mass shootings in the United States. They have expressed particular disappointment in the government’s failure to ban semi-automatic weapons—the type of gun used in the Parkland shooting—and all other accessories that make them fully automatic. Furthermore, these student activists are pushing for stricter background checks for gun buyers.

Just four days after the shooting, these students began planning the March for Our Lives demonstration, to take place on March 24 in Washington D.C. Numerous celebrities have demonstrated their support for the Parkland community, including Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney, who donated millions to the upcoming march. Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have both taken to Twitter to praise and express their support for the teens’ efforts. The former first lady tweeted: “Like every movement for progress in our history, gun reform will take unyielding courage and endurance.”

In light of this activism, it’s extremely maddening that President Donald Trump keeps highlighting mental illness as the prominent issue when mass shootings take place. Yet, as many gun control advocates have pointed out, Trump repealed an initiative in February 2017 that would have made it harder for people with mental illness to purchase guns. This was just one of the many points made in a heart-wrenching speech given by Emma González, a senior at Douglas High School, on Feb. 17. This speech became the defining moment at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale the weekend after the shooting.

Another name that has become familiar with the American public and over social media is David Hogg. Hogg is a reporter for the Douglas High School newspaper, now known for his comments on CNN the morning after the shooting: “We are children. You guys are the adults. […] Work together, come over your politics and get something done.”

In addition, Cameron Kasky, a Douglas High School junior, confronted Florida Senator Marco Rubio about accepting millions of dollars from the NRA at the CNN town hall meeting held on Feb. 21. People have praised Kasky for his courageous use of words when talking to the politician on live television. The crowd cheered for the young student and booed Rubio, who couldn’t even respond with a simple “yes” or “no.”

The words of these students over the past two weeks convinced President Trump to call for a ban on bump stocks, which make semi-automatic weapons to fire faster, and prompted Rubio to announce new measures to prevent school shootings, according to CNN. These students’ actions led to CNN hosting a town hall meeting, and their actions led certain advertisers to leave the NRA, according to The New York Times. These students have also raised millions of dollars for the upcoming march in D.C., reported CNN.

I believe this shooting triggered such an uprising because the victims were high school students, some of whom are getting ready to go to college and commence their adult journeys. But what’s most important is that these students have demonstrated they will not tolerate any more gun violence in the United States. Enough is enough.

As I look back on the Parkland shooting, I reflect on how it has affected me personally. I lived in Miami, Fla., for 10 years, and to hear about such a tragedy occurring only an hour away from where my family lives is horrifying. My younger brother is in the sixth grade at a public middle school in Miami, and everyday I fear the worst, knowing he lives in a nation where teenagers can purchase AR-15s.

It’s remarkable to see a group of teenagers who endured such trauma work so hard to change gun laws in the United States. Children shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when they go to school, and the survivors of the Parkland shooting are doing everything they can to make that a reality. As Emma González stated during her speech at Fort Lauderdale: “If us students have learned anything, it’s that if you don’t study, you will fail. And in this case, if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead. So it’s time to start doing something.”

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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