Canada: IANSA woman spends 20 years successfully fighting for gun control

12 October 2010

This article focuses on IANSA women Wendy Cukier in Canada and gives some insight into her experience and work, and the obstacles she encounters along the way.

Prof Aims for Gun Control

Ryersonian (Ontario), 28 September 2010, By Steve Silva

Few Ryerson professors have been on the receiving end of a bankruptcy campaign, namely one that involved bricks, manure, engine parts and men's used underwear being mailed in such a way that the receiver has to pay shipping.

Wendy Cukier has dealt with death threats and has an entire minority government and the prime minister staunchly against her cause. Still, Cukier hasn't ceased her 20-year battle. She is a doer, not a bystander.

"I'm a firm believer that bad things happen because good people don't take action," said Cukier, associate dean academic of the Ted Rogers School of Management. As president of the Coalition for Gun Control (CGC), Cukier is a prominent face in the politically divisive battle over the long-gun registry. Last Wednesday, Bill C-391, a Conservative private member's bill intended to destroy the registry, was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons by a vote of 153 to 151.Cukier was in the House to witness the results.

Cukier experienced gun violence first-hand while growing up in St. Catharines, Ont. Two acquaintances were shot in a bar fight when she was a teen, another two committed suicide, and both of her sisters had friends who killed themselves, each at 16.

In December 1989, a gunman killed 14 women at l'École Polytechnique in Montreal. Cukier immediately thought of her sister, a student living in the same city. The proximity was unnerving.

"I taught at Ryerson and, for me, immediately what went through my mind was, 'could have been here, could have been there, could be anywhere,'" she said. "I think I laboured under the illusion that one of the things that separated Canada from the United States was our strong gun control. And so when I found out we sold military weapons to civilians, I thought there was a problem," she said.

"When I found out there were like six million guns in Canada, and no one knew who had them, that, to me, made no sense."

She wanted to get involved with a gun control organization, but couldn't find one, so she decided to start one instead. Whenever she read about someone in the newspaper who was quoted about gun control, Cukier called them up. Eventually, she formed the CGC. "I did grow up with a very strong sense of people's moral obligation to act, rather than to be a bystander, so I guess I feel responsible. When the Conservative bill passed, I felt like I had been negligent or failed in some way to prevent that from happening. I have a sense that I have a kind of a moral obligation."

Her work with the CGC helped shape gun control in Canada, including requiring background checks and safety courses for people acquiring firearms.

Cukier's triumphs haven't come without challenges. She has received death threats, including a letter with anthrax-like white powder. "The police officer said, 'Oh well, (the sender) was just blowing off steam.' And I said 'yes, but they have guns.' And he said, 'You don't know that for sure,'" she recalls. "And I'm thinking, 'I just got a death threat because of my work on gun control – I think it's reasonable to assume the person is a gun owner.'"

Cukier says she doesn't have a problem with guns themselves, at least when it comes to hunting, target shooting, collecting, and the like. However, she draws the line at military assault weapons.

"I know more about guns than most gun owners," she said.

In fact, Cukier has gone target shooting before, including at least one time with opponents of the registry. "Yes, this is fun," she said, "But what has that got to do with getting a licence and registering a gun? "I like to drive fast cars too. I can do that with a licence and a registered car."

Cukier doesn't know if she would have started advocating for gun control if she had known it would last for 20 years. "But I think once you've invested as much in an issue as I have, you want to see it through. If I can help, I feel obligated to do it."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper vows to continue fighting the gun registry, and other groups have taken notice of Cukier's "tenacity," as she likes to put it, but she won't give up.

"Some people who are faced with opposition, criticism, threats, whatever, might find their resolve eroded. It makes me dig in my heels a lot more," Cukier said. "So the fact that the president of the National Rifle Association thinks that I'm a threat, for me is one of the best compliments I've ever had." (

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