It’s a day that Canadians will never forget: December 6, 1989. On this day, 29 years ago, a man walked into l’Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal and gunned down 14 female engineering students, because of their gender. This senseless and brutal attack, often called the Montreal Massacre, was a wakeup call for the nation: that the time for action on violence against women was urgent. It still is today.
While much has changed in the last 29 years, gender-based violence is still deeply pervasive – in our nation, our province and in all of our communities. Violence against women is a human rights issue that transcends boundaries, and for far too many women it touches very close to home. It’s why we must continue to remember and honour those 14 murdered women each and every year.
It’s why movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up are so important and timely. They’ve shown us that there is still so much work to be done to bring the issue of violence against women and girls out of the dark; to break down the barriers faced by women, to end the cycle of violence, and to assist survivors.
Violence against women isn’t just happening “somewhere else.” In Ontario alone, 53 women have died due to femicide between January and August of this year. There are still thousands of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls across our country. It’s why we demand justice for all our sisters.
We know we’re up against powerful and destructive forces, but we must stand up to violence against women in all its forms. We mustn’t feel defeated when our elected leaders stoke fear and spew hatred. We mustn’t give room for their far right ideology. We’ve got to take action; and that’s got to include all the men in OPSEU too: if you see something, say something.
This year, many of us heard the term “incel” for the very first time. It describes a community of “involuntarily celibate” and vengeful woman-haters. The Toronto van attack was a disturbing reminder that misogynistic thinking is not merely outdated and wrong-headed, it is dangerous too.
Today is an important opportunity to reflect on all victims of gender-based violence, but it’s also a time to reignite our call for action; to demand justice, fairness and equality. We’ve come a long way, and we won’t go back.
But with Doug Ford as premier, it’s a risk we face. Already, his government’s actions – and inactions – are harming women and girls; repealing the Sex Ed curriculum with its focus on consent, overhauling labour laws and scrapping the expert roundtable to end violence against women are just a few examples. There is also growing concern that rape crisis centres are on Ford’s chopping block, at a time when these services are in growing demand.
After 29 years, we’ve still got a long way to go. More than seven million women and girls call Ontario home, including 70 per cent of OPSEU members. It’s why we’ve got to be hyper-vigilant to fight misogyny at its core. Without justice, there can be no peace.
The anniversary of the Montreal Massacre is an important time for labour and our communities to come together for 16 days of action on gender-based violence; to work to dismantle embedded sexist norms and reshape the entire discourse.
Our OPSEU family is strong. That’s why together, we must continue to speak up and stand up to violence against women.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas