By Pauline Kerr
On Dec. 6, 1989, an angry, well-armed man entered École Polytechnique in Montreal and methodically hunted down and murdered 14 women over the course of 20 minutes.
In all, he killed 12 engineering students, a nursing student and an employee of the university. He wounded 14 more, four of whom were men.
He claimed to be “fighting feminism.” In the aftermath of the massacre, news emerged that the killer had also put together a chilling list of high-profile women he wanted to kill.
The murders elicited a massive outcry protesting violence against women. But what has actually changed in the years that followed?
Right now, a trial is underway for a man accused of using a van as a weapon to kill 10 people and injure 16 others on a busy Toronto street in 2018. His primary target? Women. He apparently followed an on-line movement of so-called incels (involuntary celebates – men unable to get dates with attractive women) who feel justified in expressing their frustration through violence. It was not the first attack on women by this bunch of losers, and, sadly, it is unlikely to be the last.
Former female police officers, including a number who served with the RCMP, have come forward recently with stories of a work environment they described as toxic, rampant with sexual harassment. Women all know what that entails. So do men.
A similar situation exists in the Canadian military, according to recent news reports. Female members of the military have been subjected to everything from harassment to rape, with little support from senior officers when they report it.
And then came the COVID-19 pandemic that has literally trapped women and children in their homes, with no way to escape violence. The situation has been described as a pressure cooker with no valve.
The very stresses – job losses, business closures, lack of social activities such as sports events and community gatherings, and general worries over the pandemic – that push those with a short fuse closer to the edge, also cut off victims from sources of help.
Society still regards the victim of domestic violence as the one with the problem, not her partner with the anger control issues. He gets out on bail, while she has to grab her kids and flee for her life – except with COVID-19, there is nowhere to go.
There was a time within the memory of some people reading this that domestic violence was considered a private matter between husband and wife, that an attack on a random woman was because she was dressed improperly, or in the wrong place, or doing something unfeminine like trying to work at a man’s job.
If an assault resulted in criminal charges – and few did – the first question a defence attorney would ask involved the woman’s sexual history; the second would be what she did to cause the attack.
Today? The law has changed somewhat. A woman no longer has to press charges – police do, as with any other violent crime. And a victim’s sexual history is off-limits.
But very few cases of sexual assault or domestic violence get reported. Women are scared, with good reason, they will not be believed, or the courts will not take the crime seriously.
Too many women are suffering and dying because there continue to be men who just do not get it – women are not objects, commodities, punching bags, domestic goddesses or temptresses. Women are people, with the same rights under Canadian law as men.
Instead of giving a monster another moment of fame through mention of his name, let this be a memorial to 14 victims – bright young women who, unlike the killer, had the potential of accomplishing great things: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.
They were daughters, sisters, friends and colleagues. They, and the many others who have died because they were women, continue to be mourned by women, and the many men who do get it. The killing has to stop.