POLITICS

Peace garden, politics mark fifth anniversary of shooting at Dawson College

09/13/2011 01:49 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:21 EST
MONTREAL - A quiet garden sheltered from the busy heart of Montreal was inaugurated on Tuesday as students and survivors gathered to mark the fifth anniversary of the shooting at Dawson College.

Anastasia De Sousa, a student who was the only person killed among the 20 shooting victims that day, will have part of the so-called "peace garden" named after her.

The garden includes an almond tree that turns entirely pink -- Anastasia's favourite colour -- before its leaves sprout. De Sousa's parents also wore pink at the ceremony.

Students and dignitaries were on hand for the official unveiling of the peace garden near the main campus where the killing took place on Sept. 13, 2006. That attack ended with gunman Kimveer Gill taking his own life.

Louise De Sousa, Anastasia's mother, said she hopes the garden will provide students with a place for tranquillity and reflection.

When asked how she felt, five years later, she said little had changed.

"(It's) the same thing,'' De Sousa said. ''The feelings are still there. It's hard to describe."

She said she was flooded with a range of emotions during the ceremony, during which people sang songs including, "Ode to Dawson," written by students for her daughter.

The smell of sweet grass also filled the air as Algonquin Chief Dominique Rankin presented a white eagle feather that had travelled around the world and across Canada.

Rankin said the feather started its journey one year ago at the United Nations in New York and ended in the hands of the Dalai Lama who visited Montreal last week.

"Everywhere I went I was asking people to take the white feather and to put their prayers inside, prayers of peace so that we can find peace here," Rankin told the gathering.

De Sousa's parents said they did not want to discuss the gun-control debate prompted by the shooting.

But Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, who was also on hand, said it would be a mistake for the Conservative government to scrap the long-gun registry as promised this fall.

He said the city will formally ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with De Sousa's family before taking any such action.

Tremblay also expressed support for some students' demands to meet with Harper, saying they deserved a face-to-face encounter.

"I think with the dignity, the courage and the respect which you have shown throughout this very difficult ordeal, you should at least have the possibility of meeting the prime minister," he said during his remarks.

The Prime Minister's Office says any meeting request by the family would be given the appropriate attention.

An email to The Canadian Press also said the tragedy that took place at Dawson College five years ago shocked all Canadians.

"The prime minister and our government strongly condemn this barbaric act and our sympathy goes out to the families of the victims," it read.

"That is why our government has consistently taken action to crack down on gun crime and armed criminals."

Two monuments -- one in English, the other in French -- were also unveiled at Tuesday's outdoor ceremony.

They described the peace garden as "a living memorial to the spirit of Anastasia De Sousa and a testament to the courage and strength of those who were touched by the tragedy of September 13, 2006."

"Welcome to this place of contemplation -- a haven in the shadow of the city near to the Earth and the sky."