Marking the Montreal Massacre

Today I lit a candle in memory of the 14 women who died in the Polytechnique Massacre (Montreal Massacre) on December 6, 1989:

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Nathalie Croteau

Barbara Daigneault

Anne-Marie Edward

Maud Haviernick

Barbara Klueznick

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Anne-Marie Lemay

Sonia Pelletier

Michèle Richard

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Today was the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. There’s been more media attention to this terrible event this year than I’ve seen in a while.

For instance, this week Quebec journalist and filmmaker Francine Pelletier did several interviews about the massacre and its effect on the women’s movement over the past 25 years.

Pelletier’s insights are important. After all in 1989 she discovered her name was on a list of 19 prominent Quebec feminists on gunman Marc Lépine’s suicide note, which named women he apparently wished to target.

With scandals involving former CBC Radio Q host Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby hitting a nerve, Pelletier told the Toronto Star “this year is the first anniversary when there is really something to celebrate.”

Montreal novelist Sean Michaels, who won the Giller prize recently for his novel, Us Conductors, wrote on CBC.ca that the massacre was not only a horrific crime but “it was also the brutal, explicit assertion of an ideology that is usually hidden.” Michaels points out the oppression of women “is one of our eldest systems,”  in Canadian society it’s subtle and we have not solved it.

I agree with Michaels. What saddens me is that 25 years later, I don’t know if all that much has changed. While I felt heartened when women came forward accusing Ghomeshi of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and I was especially impressed that some of the women making the allegations revealed their identities, we have a lot of work to do in our society to make sure this kind of abuse doesn’t happen in workplaces or in dating relationships.

Like Pelletier, I am glad tolerance for bad behaviour is dropping. Any man who thinks he has carte blanche to behave like Don Draper in Mad Men needs to know he won’t get away with it. Women will speak out and they will find support. They will create hash tags on Twitter and they will mobilize en masse. The tide is changing.

We also have plenty of work to do to prevent women from being murdered because they are women. Canada’s federal government hasn’t heeded calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. It is difficult for survivors of date rape to succeed in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that someone they knew raped them and no consent was given. Such situations become he said/she said discussions and everything hinges on who has more power and influence so in many instances the accused never go to jail and the accusers get dismissed as liars or as women who had a regretful change of heart about something consensual. There are plenty of other examples of violence against women happening every day in Canada, too many to list here.

I worry about our society’s ability to prevent violence against women. Today I thought about Marc Lépine’s mother, Monique Lépine. In an interview with Jan Wong, published in the December 2009 issue of Chatelaine magazine, Monique said her son was a “nice little boy.” She said when she learned about the massacre she couldn’t imagine her son had done such a thing. “Who was a feminist in his mind?,” Monique said about her son. “An independent woman who had a good job? I was like that myself.”

Monique Lépine never thought her son would grow up to hate women and blame women for his problems. As a mother of sons the idea that my flesh and blood would ever hurt women seems alien to me.

We need to find out how we can help young men grow up to have healthy attitudes towards women’s equality, towards their own sexuality and not see women as sexual objects, or as threats to their own career prospects. We need to offer more help for young men who have problems with their mothers or feel anger towards women in general. I don’t have a solution, I just find it’s far easier to dismiss Marc Lépine and Jian Ghomeshi as misogynists than it is to figure out how our society can prevent the next Marc Lépine or Ghomeshi from harming women.

I am incredibly touched that Vanier College students have created a video to mark the 25th anniversary of this tragedy. I don’t know their ages but I doubt any of them were even born when the massacre happened. Their decision to denounce violence against women and to team up with the CEGEP St-Laurent next door in making a human chain is inspiring.

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Marking the Montreal Massacre

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