Brian Sweeney believes in face-to-face communications. So as he prepares for an uphill battle to lobby for the strengthening of laws around intimate partner violence, he decided to introduce himself to the prime minister on his recent visit to the Sault.
When news broke on the morning of Nov. 10 that Justin Trudeau would be in town that day, Sweeney made the decision to try and look the PM in the eye and make him aware of who he is and what he wants to accomplish.
Sweeney made his way to the Legion's temporary home, in the basement of the Marconi, for one of the PM’s stops scheduled for that day. He stood in the back of the room and waited for Trudeau to come to him.
“When he first came to me he said: 'And who are you, sir?’ and went to shake my hand. I said: ‘I’m Brian T. Sweeney, get used to hearing that name because I am going to be around for a while,’ " Sweeney told SooToday on Saturday. “I said I was the father of the girl who was just murdered in the Sault here.”
“He kind of looked like a kid caught with his fingers in the candy jar, you know what I mean? For a split second there I think he was in a state of shock,” he said of the prime minister's immediate reaction to his introduction.
Sweeney’s daughter Angie was 41 years old when she was killed on Oct. 23 in her Tancred Street home, the first of four killed that evening by Bobbie Hallaert, who injured another woman before turning the gun on himself. The other victims killed were ages 6, 7 and 12 and Sweeney said he thought of them as his own grandchildren.
“He started giving me his condolences and sympathy and everything," Sweeney recalled. "That’s when I told him: ‘It would be nice to know the government is going to be working with us to make some changes here.'
"That is the reason I went there. I didn’t bring anybody, I wasn’t going there to make it anything, I just wanted to make an introduction of myself to him and to let him know we’re going to be talking to you, whether he likes it or not.”
Trudeau assured Sweeney that Sault MP Terry Sheehan would follow up with him in a meeting before they parted ways.
“When I left Trudeau and was done shaking his hand I said: ‘Just like you’re a busy man, I am a busy man too. I have got to carry on my day,’” said Sweeney. "I said: You have a nice day.’”
“I figured you don’t [look] a gift horse in the mouth and with him showing up at that time and being able to do what I did, it made my day. It was a good perk up for me,” he added.
About 40 minutes after the encounter, Sweeney received a phone call from Sheehan. The next day, the two met in the MP’s Queen Street office.
“I told him the laws are already there to protect people, you just have to put them all together under one roof,” Sweeney said, recounting the meeting with Sheehan. “I’m asking you to utilize the laws you have and put it all under one group and say if this type of scenario comes into the picture again where someone fears for their life or they are being beaten all of the time, then you have to have that together and move on it right now.”
Sweeney said he was satisfied with the two meetings, calling them a good start. This coming week he is going to start organizing a team of people to continue lobbying efforts through the Angie’s Angels Facebook group created after his daughter’s death.
“The response I am getting is nothing short of astronomical, to be honest with you," he said of the group, which has about 1,900 members. "But I’m not surprised because it’s been a problem building up for so goddamn long, it’s out of control."
Some of those members are local survivors, some are from other parts of Canada who experienced similar incidents to the one that occurred in the Sault.
“There are other people getting involved now that have been fighting with this cause for a long time and gotten nowhere. They want to get on board,” said Sweeney.
“I think I can get a good team of 10 for starters of very knowledgeable and experienced people who have been dealing with this for a while,” he added. “We’re out to make a lot of noise. This is going to happen, trust me.”
The group has also allowed people to reach out to him for assistance with their own intimate partner violence issues. Sweeney said a lot of people affected by IPV simply don’t know who to turn to for help.
“I have already helped probably four different people in this city who have been having an issue with this kind of stuff,” said Sweeney. “I just put them in the right direction of someone who can help them and hope those people are going to o their job. If they don’t, then they get back to me and they tell me and I make some noise.”