We need the candlelit vigils and concerts for Dec.6 just as we need the solemn bells and silences of Nov.11 . We need the cleared space, the stopping of time's relentless clock, the ceremony and the heightened words that will unlock our feelings and make us remember. It takes an effort of will to bring to mind the blows and the ugliness that lie just beneath the surface of so many lives around us. We must make the effort, because even as you read this, other hands are raised against other children who will grow up to take vengeance on those who never harmed them.
The National Day of Remembrance is for all women killed by male violence --- not in battle, not because they were criminals, but simply because they were female.
As usual, when we gather tomorrow , only the willing of heart will be present. Willing or unwilling, however, no Canadian had an option ten years ago when the blurred, urgent, news crackled into our consciousness. We had to hear; we had to feel the sting of hatred's poison.
I was cocooned in the welcome warmth of bed, waking slowly after a happy
public event the night before --- the Toronto debut of
a feminist documentary --- that had played to a huge, exuberant crowd. The glow of pleasure still wrapped me as my eyes opened to my husband bursting out of the bathroom, his razor still in his hand, relaying in shocked tones what he had just heard on the radio: "Somebody killed a lot of women..." he exclaimed. "Montreal..it's a slaughter..."
Within moments, it was clear that the young women had been cold-bloodedly separated out and executed solely because of their gender. The pain of that news was physical, like an arrow of ice stabbing my heart. Only equality -full, rich, deeply entrenched equality of respect, dignity and human worth, for all people of all colours, reflected in laws, popular culture and social mores --- can ever heal that wound.
Our posters and banners for Dec.6 all read: "First mourn. Then work for change." In these 10 years, thousands upon thousands of Canadians, women and men, have done both. The mourning was and is painfully real. For women who were activists, working at low pay or as volunteers in the front lines (a telling phrase) of the war against women, staffing the clinics, the rape crisis centres, the women's counselling centres, the incest recovery groups, the battered women's shelters, that bleak day was the final unbearable crisis. All the stifled rage and despair at the useless violence welled up and spilled over in tears, angry speeches, boiling words.
For myself, I regret now that The Star asked me, only hours after the news, to write a
front page reaction piece. Along with many others, I felt that at this raw moment, of all
moments, I would be permitted to say how enraged and defiant we felt about the constant
stream of blows and wounds inflicted on women simply because of their femaleness. I was
wrong. It was still taboo to speak about male violence against women. As
a learned man once explained to me, such blunt speech violates "men's
right not to know" what their buddies are doing and what their male culture permits and even fosters.< Instantly, our hot tears and
painful grief were dismissed as "political". The story, in countless broadcasts and news columns, became not the dead women but the outrage of "innocent" men, in a fury at being linked by their maleness to Marc Lepine. It was all about them ---were their feelings hurt, were they being discriminated against because a few all-female vigils were planned . I regret that many of us spoke up so honestly only because it gave the backlash an opening for attack that served as a distraction from the real issue. (Sometimes it seems that anything will distract the public from the dead bodies of murdered women --- 40 dead women a year in Canada, killed by male rage).
Now, ten years later, I'd rather draw people's attention to lessons we might learn from
the life of Gamil Gharbi. His brutal,
control-freak father---one of the real root causes of the Montreal Massacre --- sued for custody, although he never bothered to visit
or pay for his children after the divorce. Today, there is a whole movement of violent men, some of them slick and plausible, who
insist that they are entitled to custody of their children, and there are parliamentarians dedicated to promoting their cause.< Most men, thank heaven, took a different path. Patrick Quinn, chair of the Professional Engineers of Ontario, swore on the spot to make a difference, and he tells me that today not only have the number of women engineering students doubled, but attitudes have changed: "The young men are used to equality in their relationships now, and many, including older men, were awakened to different values by Montreal."
Gun control, new schools of women's studies, Statistics Canada data on the levels
of violence against woman, anti-violence
education in schools, ever-diminishing tolerance for the stupidity of sexism, progress in legislation to afford women equal protection of the law --- the advances are heartening. CBC Newsworld will devote the entire day tomorrow to remembrance and reflection, an unprecedented media breakthrough.
It may be many years, however, before we can shrink the pitiful roll-call of the
murdered women and children on those annual lists of the dead. Tomorrow, on the national
Day of Remembrance, let each of us think of those who died, and what we can do to stop the
killing. Just to start, if you see a woman selling red rose buttons, buy one. If your
work-place doesn't have a remembrance service planned, stage an impromptu one. In the
moment of silence, try on the word "feminist" and see how a passion for
The Women's Monument Project
"A small depression at the deepest point in the center of the top surface [of the stone slab monument] will serve as a
reservoir for collected water and a vessel of memory-- a collection of tears!" The monument is a continuous ring of paving bricks placed in the ground, each bearing about 10 names of individual donors. The bulk of the monument is fourteen stone slabs, spaced in 98 foot diameter circle, each bearing the name of one of the murdered women. The stone slabs will be laid horizontally and raised off the ground about 6" on two plinths. A small depression at the deepest point in the center of the top surface will serve as a reservoir for collected water and a vessel of memory--a collection of tears. The monument was designed by Beth Alber.
The Women's Monument Project
2055 Purcell Way
North Vancouver, BC V7J 3H5.
In the larger context of violence that women face around this world, and
the moreso in those countries where overtly patriarchal
regimes exert the most agressive, excessive and regressive control over women and in the war zones of the world where women suffer the most horrifying and heinous atrocities and in all countries where globalization's oppressive onslaught against women
continues to grow....... forever remembering this tragic moment in Canadian history - a moment in time when hundreds of thousands of Canadians - were stopped short in their steps in utter shock and deepest sorrow.
Genevieve Bergeron, 21, was a 2nd year scholarship student in civil engineering.
Helene Colgan, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take her master's degree.
Nathalie Croteau, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering.
Barbara Daigneault, 22, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and held a teaching assistantship.
Anne-Marie Edward, 21, was a first year student in chemical engineering.
Maud Haviernick, 29, was a 2nd year student in engineering materials, a branch of metallurgy, and a graduate in environmental design.
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31, was a 2nd year engineering student specializing in engineering materials.
Maryse Laganiere, 25, worked in the budget department of the Polytechnique.
Maryse Leclair, 23, was a 4th year student in engineering materials.
Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, was a 4th year student in mechanical engineering.
Sonia Pelletier, 28, was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering. She was awarded a degree posthumously.
Michele Richard, 21, was a 2nd year student in engineering materials.
Annie St-Arneault, 23, was a mechanical engineering student.
Annie Turcotte, 21, was a first year student in engineering materials.
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