by Tanya Hawco
Special to Wreckhouse Weekly
On December 6, 1989 at Université de Montreal’s École Polytechnique, a man entered a classroom, separated the male and female students and shouted at the women “You’re all a bunch of feminists and I hate feminists”.
He shot six women dead. He continued his rampage throughout the school, killing a total of fourteen women in a violent, unfathomable act of hate and misogyny. Misogyny is, in its most simple definition, the hatred of women. He injured fourteen others – ten women and four men.
These fourteen women died simply because they were women. In a letter, he expressed his frustration at “feminists”, at women who were “stealing opportunities” from men, and listed names of more women who he hoped to kill.
I was ten years old when this tragedy happened. And because of my age, likely, I was protected from even knowing what had happened. My parents didn’t tell me, it wasn’t talked about at school and I wasn’t watching the news or scrolling any social media feeds. It is hard to imagine how that would have impacted me, knowing that someone would want to kill me just because of my gender or because of the career choices I would make, somehow being seen as imposing in a man’s world.
The women murdered that day are more than just names on a plaque. They were in school, with hopes and dreams for the future. Twelve of these women wanted to be engineers. One was studying to be a nurse. Another worked as a budget clerk. They played sports, loved music. Some were about to graduate with job offers waiting. They had families who loved them. Someone else’s hate and misogyny took away their futures and shocked millions of other women into facing a reality that misogyny was not something you learn about in a textbook, but was, and still is, very real in our own country.
December 6 is now the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. Established by the Parliament of Canada, this day marks the anniversary of the murders in Montreal and also represents an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the continued issue of violence against women in our country. Finally, it is a day to consider what more we can do to finally eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
Thirty one years later, violence against women continues. In 2018, a man used a van to run down pedestrians on the streets of Toronto, murdering ten people. The murderer’s expressed motive was his hatred of women. Most recently, the tragic mass murders in Nova Scotia are believed to have started with a vicious and violent attack on the murderer’s female partner.
But to this day, the most dangerous place for a woman remains to be her own home. On average, every six days in our country, a woman is killed by her intimate partner. And even more devastating is that these statistics get tragically worse for Indigenous women. And if the rates of murder aren’t scary enough, consider that Statistics Canada reports that half of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence in their lifetime.
Behind every statistic is a face, a story and trauma that reverberates through our hearts, families and community. Within the current pandemic, we know that things have gotten worse for many women, as we spend more and more time at home, isolated.
The rates of gender based violence demonstrate the urgent need for change. We can all make a difference. We can challenge sexist stereotypes, comments and jokes. While some may think this is harmless, it actually supports a culture in which women are inferior. We can teach our kids that there are no such things as “boy colours” or “girly toys”.
We can teach consent to our children and talk about respect and equality in our homes and schools. We can help women experiencing violence by believing their story, letting them know it is not their fault and helping them find support. We can advocate that our systems provide appropriate, trauma-informed supports. We can reflect on our own behaviours, educate ourselves and aim to do better. We can demand public education initiatives that will address the root causes of femicide and misogyny. Together we can help end violence against women.
For more than twenty years the Gateway Status of Women Council has commemorated December 6 in partnership with the Port aux Basques College of the North Atlantic by holding a special memorial service on their campus. This year, in respect of public health guidelines, we will not be holding our traditional service but we will still mark this important day on our Facebook page.
We ask our community to join us by placing a (battery operated) candle in their window during the evening hours of December 6th. You may also see luminaries at various businesses around town, calling attention to not only the memory of the fourteen women who died so many years ago in Montreal, but the sobering reality of continuing violence against women and girls and a time to reflect on what we can all do to eliminate it.
Tanya Hawco is a registered social worker and Executive Director of the Gateway Status of Women Council.