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34 years after École Polytechnique massacre,gender-based violence still a reality in Canada

On December 6, 1989, a gunman killed 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal. These women were remembered at a special service in Port aux Basques 34 years after the massacre. — © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — On Wednesday morning, Dec. 6, the Gateway Status of Women Centre held a service recognizing the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, an issue that is one of significance across the country. “Today will mark the 34th anniversary of a senseless, tragic, violent mass shooting in our country. On that day, a day probably very much like today, a 25-year-old man entered a classroom at a Montreal college, probably very much like the ones many of you have sat in this morning or at some point in your life. He separated the male and female students, shouting to the women, ‘you’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists.’ Armed with a rifle and a hunting knife, he opened fired. Six women were shot dead. He continued his rampage, killing a total of 14 women. In a violent, unthinkable, and deplorable act of hate, he injured 14 more individuals, who were mostly women, before using the gun to end his own life. Countless more people present that day were forever psychologically impacted. Dozens of lives were forever changed. December 6 has since been designated as Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. Established in 1991 by Parliament of Canada, this day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of these 14 young women at Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal,” said Haley Osmond, Executive Director of the Gateway Status of Women Council. “They died because they were women. The killer’s motivation was explicitly clear. In a suicide note, he wrote, ‘I have decided to send the feminists who have always ruined my life to their maker.’ It was a pure act of misogyny.” Even though she wasn’t born when the tragedy happened, Osmond remembered her parents explaining the significance of the December 6th anniversary to her. “My parents tried to explain what occurred in a way that was age appropriate for a young child. I remember having many questions about the events that transpired on that tragic day, and my parents answering my questions the best they could. The fact that an individual killed women simply because they were women was a complex concept for me to grasp at that time. How someone could hold so much hatred towards women was hard to fathom. From that point on, I remember always acknowledging December 6th, and as I got older, I was able to fully comprehend the misogynistic motives behind the tragic event that unfolded that day. In reality, these women, just like many of you, were in school with hopes and dreams for their future. Twelve of these women wanted to be engineers. One was studying to be a nurse, the other worked as a budget clerk. They played sports. They loved music. They had families and friends who loved them. Someone else’s hate took away their futures and shocked millions of other women into facing a reality that misogyny was not just something you learn about in a textbook, but was something very real and present in our own country,” said Osmond. “As well as remembering the 14 young women whose lives ended in an act of gender-based violence that shocked the nation, December 6 represents an opportunity for us to reflect on the realities of violence against women in our society. It is also an opportunity to consider the women and girls for whom violence is a daily reality and to remember those who have died as a result of gender-based violence. And finally, it is a day on which communities, governments, institutions, and individuals can consider concrete actions to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, because 34 years later, gender-based violence continues to be a disturbing reality.”’ This is not something that happens elsewhere, or just in big cities. There are women experiencing gender-based violence in the Southwest coast region and throughout the province. “True, powerful men aren’t intimidated by smart women. True, confident men are not afraid of women who believe in equality. Beating a woman into submission with fists or with words does not make a man strong or powerful. Too many women in our area live day to day with high levels of exhaustion and fear, and they live with intimate partners who abuse them. Sometimes the abuse is physical, psychological, financial, emotional. I’ve met many of these women over the past nine months, and quite frankly, they are our friends. I’ve found that they are our daughters, they are our aunts, our mothers, our grandmothers, they are people who work in grocery stores, they are checking the mail, they are walking down our streets, they are delivering service to us on a daily basis, the are raising children in our community, they are people who simply want to live a simple life, one without fear and one with love,” said Mandy Ryan Francis, Working Through Domestic Violence in the Workplace Program Coordinator. “But of those women, sometimes we, in our society, we ask the question too often, why don’t you just leave? When we know there are situations that we probably should have — as if it were that simple — by asking the person, why didn’t you just leave, who is surviving the abuse? It re-victimizes them. It blames them for doing something wrong, because the person who’s surviving the abuse isn’t the problem. The perpetrator is the problem. The right question that we should be asking and should be asking at all is the perpetrator, why do you abuse? Why do you abuse? So instead of asking, why did you stay? We need to ask, why do you hit? Why do you choke? Why do you threaten your intimate partner with a weapon? This is what’s needed to be understood in our society and by us in our community. These are great questions that need to be asked.” The event has been held by the Gateway Status of Women Council for the last 15 years. “It’s an important service about an important issue that we all shouldn’t forget,” said Osmond. “I’ve heard from numerous people that have attended the college and the service over the years, the impact that the service has had on them, so I think that it’s important that we always continue to mark it and conduct the service.” The turnout for the event, as always, was impressive, and made a lasting impact on those in attendance. “I think issues like gender-based violence and intimate partner violence, we all know about it,” said Osmond. “Everyone knows about it, but ceremonies and services like this really hit home and remind how any of us could be a victim or any of us could experience, directly or indirectly, gender-based violence.” Statistics show the stark reality of gender-based violence in Canada

  1. Approximately every six days in Canada, a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. On December 6, 1989, 14 women (12 engineering students, one nursing student, and one employee of the university) were killed, and the gunman injured 14 others, 10 women and four men. The murdered women were:

  2. Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student

  3. Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

  4. Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

  5. Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student

  6. Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student

  7. Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student

  8. Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department

  9. Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student

  10. Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student

  11. Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student

  12. Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student

  13. Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student

  14. Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student

  15. Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student.

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