We all remember certain events that stopped us in our tracks; events we don’t forget, even after many years. For me, one of those was the murder of John Lennon, someone who represented my youth and social awakening. That was December 8, 1980, almost 38 years ago. But another shooting probably hit me even harder, also in December, a few years later. On December 6, 1989, a twenty‑five‑year‑old man, who doesn’t deserve to be named, armed with a rifle and a hunting knife, shot 28 people at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, killing 14 women.
There were so many shocking aspects to this mass murder. The man targeted women, mostly young engineering students, because he said they were “feminists”, and feminists, he said, had ruined his life. For some reason, this was a new thing for me: killing women just because they were women. I couldn’t understand it. And I found it hard to understand what the men in that room must have felt that night. Hearing the killer rant about feminists and then ordering all the men to leave the room, they walked away and left their fellow students to their fate.
Would it have made any difference if they had stayed? Would it have meant something important if they had chosen to share that fate, or tried to stop a madman with a gun? What would you or I have done? Impossible to say, but the fact that they left and the women died made me feel more than a little ashamed and confused for days afterwards. Other women died that night, shot as the miserable individual walked through the halls of the school, shooting, not randomly, but concentrating on women. He killed fourteen women and wounded another ten, as well as four men, before shooting himself. It all took just twenty minutes, and nobody tried to stop him.
We are near the end of November, Woman Abuse Prevention Month, and last Sunday, November 25, was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Between then and December 6, men across the country are asked to wear a white ribbon, partly in memory of all women who have been victims of violence, and also as an act of support, a pledge that they will not forget and not allow the phenomenon to continue as far as it lies with them. The anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
Now, one of the saddest things about this whole issue is that there are still men around who don’t get it, who think the whole idea of these memorials is just a “feminist” thing. They don’t know why male victims of violence don’t get the same attention, and they are right in that. But the stats are clear. According to a very valuable resource on-line, The Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women (www.vpnmentor.com/blog/the‑empowering‑internet‑safety‑guide‑for‑women):
“Although men are also subject to online harassment – which includes name calling, derision, and physical threats – the study found that online, women are more than twice as likely as men to experience sexual harassment. In addition, more than half of women ages 18‑29 report having been sent sexually explicit images without their consent. This number is only growing, and while 70% of women believe online harassment to be a major problem, not many know how to prevent it.”
We have printed part of this resource in today’s paper: “Ways to Protect Yourself on Facebook”, because violence against women, children and men is not confined to a special month or day. It continues throughout the year, usually in silence and hidden away from family, friends and neighbours. But, in the light of the #MeToo movement and the increasingly bright light being shone on this scandal, it is time for all of us to acknowledge the crisis and to stand up, when we can, to call a halt to it.
The Montreal Massacre, and every other example of this hatred and violence, causes us feelings of unease, anger, or even hatred. This is not the answer. Our response has to be more than a feeling: it has to be action. That may be deliberately changing our attitudes, educating ourselves to the realities. It may be financially supporting those who work to support victims, such as Leeds and Grenville Interval House (http://lgih.ca 24-hour crisis line: 613-342-8815 or 1-800-267-4409).
Victims of violence need more than immediate help. At least two of the survivors of the Montreal Massacre later committed suicide, and stated in the notes they left behind that it was that trauma that had brought them to that desperate measure. There is no easy or simple way to end this article. No comfortable or witty remark, nothing that gives any indication that this issue is going away. It isn’t.