December 6, 2016 marks the 27 anniversary of the mass femicide at École Polytechnique. Vigils will be held across Canada to commemorate the murder of 14 female engineering students.
On that day in 1989 a lone gunman entered a classroom of 60 engineering students and ordered the men to leave. The murderer was heard to scream, “I hate feminists,” before opening fire with the intent of killing as many women as he could.
Anne St-Arneault, 23; Geneviève Bergeron, 21; Hélène Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Klueznick, 31; Maryse Laganière, 25; Maryse Leclair, 23; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 23; Michèle Richard, 21; and Annie Turcotte, 21 were murdered because they were female.
This single act of violence meant to terrorize, intimidate and coerce women and girls let all Canadians know there are no sanctuaries or safe havens for women and girls. There can be no denying this vicious act targeted women in general and feminists in particular.
Absurdly, the shooter failed to realize both women and men can be feminists. Supporting women’s equality and recognizing women’s rights are human rights is all that’s necessary to be a feminist.
As devastating and horrible as the massacre at Ecole Polythechnique was, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the largest ongoing mass femicide in Canadian history – the targeting of Canada’s Aboriginal women and girls dating back to the time of first contact.
In no way is this inclusion meant to detract from the importance of the massacre that resulted in December 6 being declared the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. Instead, including our Aboriginal sisters who have been murdered or gone missing at the hands of male perpetrators must be included in this day of remembrance because their femicide is a catastrophe of epic proportion with effects that have touched every aspect of Aboriginal life.
Since first contact, Europeans have undermined and usurped the authority and power of First Nations, Inuit and Metis women and girls. This was institutionalized through the implementation of the Indian Act which effectively stripped Aboriginal women and girls of their basic human rights.
Every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner, but Aboriginal women are killed at rates six to seven times greater than those of non-Aboriginal women.
Aboriginal women are almost three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than non-Aboriginal women.
The RCMP estimate a total of 1,181 Aboriginal women went missing or were murdered between 1980 and 2012. Grassroots organizations and the Minister of the Status of Women put the number closer to 4,000. But, this number does not even begin to reflect the true number of Aboriginal women and girls who have been the victims of large scale femicide for the past 150 years.
December 6th is a day of remembrance and mourning, but it should also be a day when we remind our politicians at every level of government that in order to end gendered violence we need to have true equality for all women and girls.
It starts by designing policies, laws, institutions, services, agencies and organizations using a gendered lens. That can only happen if when there’s equal representation of men and women at all levels of government, on company boards, and in positions with decision making power.
But, let’s be realistic, these are long standing institutions that are not welcoming of change – especially when the ruling elite are asked to share the power and control that they have enjoyed for decades if not centuries.
So, we may need to shake things up a little. So, take a moment before you don your coat and venture out into the cold to stand in solidarity with your sisters and brothers to commemorate a very sad day in Canadian history. In that moment, sign on to your computer and sign your name to the Leap Manifesto.
Let’s create a new Canada based on caring for the earth and one another.
To help with understanding the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, I’d like to offer a film for adults to watch and a wonderful children’s book for all ages.
Watch the National Film Board movie, This River:
The 20 minute film by Katherena Vermette and Erica MacPherson follows the spiritually and emotionally challenging work performed by the volunteer members of Drag the Red (river) Organization based in Winnipeg. This film won the 2016 Coup de Coeur Award at the Montreal First Peoples Festival.
DTR originally organized to shame the Winnipeg police department into searching for missing Aboriginal women and men. Instead the DTR continues to drag the river on a daily basis from May to October. Ground crews search the riverbanks weekly.
DTR is run entirely by volunteers many of whom have missing family members so locating a body is always better sweet.
This River was made available for free starting on the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Need a gift this holiday season? Then buy multiple copies of author Melanie Florence’s book Missing Nimama. The winner of the 2016 TD Children’s Book Award, Missing Nimama is a child-centered reflection on missing and murdered Indigenous women.
A young girl is raised by her grandmother after her own mother goes missing. The story is told through the voices of the young girl, her grandmother, and her missing mother who watches over her as she grows up.
It’s time to share the story with all of our children so they know the truth and so that history does not repeat itself.