People in Canada turn their collective attention today to eradicating violence against women as the nation marks a Day of Remembrance on the 24th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre—when 14 young engineering students were murdered at the l'École Polytechnique de Montréal by a crazed gunman screaming, “I hate feminists!”
“December 6 remains etched in our nation’s collective memory as we recall the horrific killing,” Governor General David Johnston said in a statement. “On that day, our country was plunged into despair, and in memory of the victims, we pray today that such a despicable act will never be repeated, and we affirm that we will never tolerate violence against women in any form.”
The day commemorates the lives lost on December 6, 1989, when a gunman confronted 60 engineering students during class, forcing the men to leave the room at gunpoint and shooting the women, CBC News recounts in its archives. The 45-minute rampage that followed spread to several classrooms on three floors as the gunman roamed the corridors seeking women to shoot, before then killing himself.
On this Day of Remembrance, Indigenous Peoples across Canada highlighted the sobering statistics about aboriginal women and violence and reiterated their call for a national inquiry into the murders and disappearances of 600 or more indigenous women whose cases are still pending.
“On behalf of First Nations women across Canada, we continue to call for concrete action and immediate investments to ensure safety and security for all women and girls,” the National Women’s Council of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) said in a statement. “Today we honor the young women lost far too soon in Montreal, and the many other women in this country whose lives have been cut tragically short and all those who remain missing.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to continue efforts to end violence against women, both at home and worldwide.
“While we will never fully understand this atrocity, our government is committed to helping ensure that it does not happen again by making our streets and communities safe for women, girls and all Canadians,” Harper said in a statement. “Our government recognizes that violence against women and girls is a sad daily reality that takes a heavy toll on individuals and our communities. That is why we are taking action across the country to combat violence against women, through measures such as: committing greater resources to supporting victims of crime and protecting Aboriginal women; launching a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking; increasing penalties for violent crimes; and supporting Child Advocacy Centres to better serve young victims and witnesses of crime. In Economic Action Plan 2013, our Government also committed $24 million over two years for the Family Violence Prevention Program to help improve safety on reserves.”
Still, he fell short of agreeing to a national inquiry regarding violence against aboriginal women, a point that First Nations and Métis alike stressed.
“Today we stand with Indigenous and non-Indigenous women across Canada and demand that the Government of Canada commit to taking real steps to address violence against women,” the AFN’s women’s council said. “Today we reiterate the need for a National Public Commission of Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and call for collaboration with Indigenous women and representative organizations to develop and implement a National Action Plan to end violence.”
Other aboriginal groups pointed out the link between anti-female violence and colonialism.
“While gender-based violence affects everyone, part of the legacy of colonialism is the cycle of intergenerational trauma resulting from systemic abuse that has left generations of aboriginal women particularly vulnerable to acts of violence and crime,” said Métis Nation of Ontario President Gary Lipinski in a statement. “Statistics clearly indicate that aboriginal women are significantly over-repre¬sented as victims of assault, sexual assault, spousal abuse and homicide. Métis, First Nations and Inuit women are three and a half times more likely to experience spousal violence than non-Aboriginal women. The rate of spousal homicide for aboriginal women is eight times greater than that of non-aboriginal women.
“In some northern Ontario communities it is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of women experience violence,” Lipinski continued. “These are not numbers. These are our sisters, moms, grandmas, aunties, daughters and granddaughters.”