Rachel Bendayan has been making gun control a key issue in Outremont

Rachel Bendayan in 2019, after winning the byelection in Outremont. (Credit: CJN file photo)

Rachel Bendayan, the Liberal incumbent in Montreal’s Outremont riding, set her sights squarely on Erin O’Toole during the campaign, censuring his stance on gun control.

She accuses the Conservative leader of contradicting his party’s platform on military-style firearms and of misleading voters, warning that his government would take Canada in the direction of U.S. policy.

“We know Erin O’Toole wants to rip up our (the Liberal government’s May 2020) ban on assault weapons, no matter how much he tries to deny it in public… No matter how much (he) and his team try to hide it, they will take Canada’s gun control laws backwards,” tweeted Bendayan, whose riding includes École Polytechnique where 14 women were massacred in 1989.

That dreadful December night remains forever etched in Bendayan’s memory. “I was eight years old. My father was a professor in the medical faculty of the Université de Montréal (with which the Polytechnique is associated). He was late coming home, and I kept asking where he was,” she recalled.

“He was outside the building, he heard the gunshots, he saw the ambulances coming in. He knew people were killed.”

The CJN was unable to reach Outremont Conservative candidate Jasmine Louras for comment.

Party spokesperson Axel Rioux stated that a Conservative government would get rid of the current law and replace it with “a simplified classification system and codify it in law to specify which types of weapons fall into each category,” maintaining a 1977 law that already bans automatic weapons.

This is Bendayan’s fourth election. In her first foray in 2015 she was runner-up to incumbent Tom Mulcair, former leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP).

She won the seat handily in a February 2019 byelection held when Mulcair resigned after losing the NDP leadership. She built on that support in the October 2019 election when she garnered 46 percent of the ballots, a 26-point margin over the NDP’s Andrea Clarke.

Bendayan, a lawyer and Liberal Party activist since her student days, is the first Sephardic woman to be elected a Member of Parliament. Like Mount Royal Liberal incumbent Anthony Housefather, the only other Jewish Quebec MP, dozens of Bendayan’s signs were scrawled with swastikas and other hateful graffiti in the campaign’s early days.

Historically Liberal, Outremont was captured by Mulcair in 2007 at the start of the “Orange Wave” that washed over Quebec due to the popularity of leader Jack Layton. In 2019 the NDP retained a single seat in Quebec: Outremont adjacent Rosemont-La Petite Patrie.

The sprawling riding is diverse culturally and socio-economically. It covers the borough of Outremont, eastern Côte des Neiges, parts of the Mile End, Parc Extension and La Petite Patrie neighbourhoods, and a bit of downtown.

Eleven percent of the population was Jewish, according to the 2011 Canadian census, with Hasidic and other haredi communities probably the majority. Muslims accounted for 9.5 percent.

The 2016 census identified 55 percent of residents as francophone.

Members of the Hasidic community, previously partial to Mulcair, switched their support to Bendayan and her campaign team reflects the riding’s diversity.

The daughter of Moroccan immigrants who fled political strife, Bendayan says exercising the freedom to make Canada an even more equitable, pluralistic society has been a major motivation for her political involvement.

An NDP candidate is again her main challenger. Ève Péclet was the NDP MP for east-end La Pointe de l’Île from 2011 to 2015. The 32-year-old lawyer failed in her re-election bid in 2015 and again in 2019.

Péclet’s law practice focuses on tenants’ rights, defending against unwarranted evictions, as well as domestic violence victims. She advocates for more social housing and a more accessible justice system.

A former NDP youth chair, Péclet said Outremont is where she was born and lived most of her life. Today, she resides on a street with many Hasidic neighbours and is pleased at how open they are to discussing issues with her.

Péclet applauds Bendayan for taking a strong stance on gun control. This is a high priority for the NDP, she said, which proposes a buy-back policy to get guns out of circulation.

“I totally agree with her, and appreciate her fight. The difference is that we believe criminality is a consequence of social conditions, like (inequality in) housing, education, discrimination, and marginalization. The root causes of criminality have to be fought through social policy and gun control, hand in hand, not separately,” she said.

The dominant concerns electors raise with Péclet are housing affordability and the pandemic’s effect on health and the economy, she said. Small and medium businesses are worried whether they will recover.

Bendayan concurs that housing is a preoccupation in Outremont, both cost and the increasing incidence of “reno-victions”: landlords evicting tenants to make major upgrades and then increase rents.

At dissolution, Bendayan was parliamentary secretary to Mary Ng, minister of small business, export promotion and international trade. Just before the election call, Bendayan announced $198,000 in financial support for the local drug developer IMMUNI T.

The statistical modeler 338Canada.com gives Bendayan odds of just under 99 percent of holding onto Outremont, with the NDP a distant second.