December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. Today, we remember the 14 young women studying to become engineers at École Polytechnique in Montréal who were shot and killed by a gunman – targeted simply because they were women. Over 30 years ago, this tragedy initiated a dialogue that contributed to tougher gun control laws and improved emergency response. It also brought to light the gender-based violence that women still continue to face today.
On the evening of the attack in École Polytechnique, the media portrayed the killer as a “madman”. It was only in 2019 that the City of Montréal updated the language on the commemorative plaque at Place-du 6-decembre-1989 to call it what it was: an anti-feminist attack.
30 years between an attack and the official recognition of the true motive is 30 years too long. When dealing with discrimination of any kind, the damaging consequences of it must be immediately acknowledged, and actions taken to prevent further tragedies from occurring.
According to a report by the World Health Organization, which looked at data from 161 countries between 2000 and 2018, one in three women are subjected to gender-based violence at least once in their lifetime. This figure remains mostly unchanged in the last decade.
The data in Ontario is also concerning. Every year, the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses releases a report of cases that fall under the definition of femicide. In 2022, there were as many as 52 confirmed cases of femicide, which includes the tragic case of mother and daughter, Anne-Marie and Jasmine Ready, stabbed and killed at their home in Ottawa in June by the son of a neighbour. A third victim, the elder daughter, Catherine, survived the harrowing attack.
Indigenous women are even more disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. According to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls, Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing in Canada, and 16 times more likely than white women. The level of violence experienced by Indigenous women is shocking. This truth was brought home once again last week when police in Winnipeg announced the arrest of an alleged serial killer in the deaths of Morgan Beatrice Harris, Marcedes Myran, Rebecca Cantois and a fourth unidentified Indigenous women. A candlelight vigil was held last week, to honour the women who were much loved and missed mothers, daughters and a grandmother.
LGBTQ2S+ individuals are also at high risk of violence as a result of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Women who are disadvantaged, homeless, or have disabilities, are also at higher risk of abuse.
Today, we honour the victims of the École Polytechnique mass shooting and reaffirm OPSEU/SEFPO’s commitment to fight for social improvements to prevent all forms of gender-based violence.
JP Hornick, President
Laurie Nancekivell, First Vice-President/Treasurer
Dianne Clarabut, Provincial Women’s Committee Chair