December 6th marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. Twenty-two years ago the day was established by the Parliament of Canada to commemorate the death of 14 young women, thirteen students and one staff, at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal; all were murdered because they were women. In marking this day, it remains critical to consider exactly what ought to be remembered and what actions ought to result.
Remember who to remember.
On the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, remember who should be remembered – the victims and survivors of violence. We live in a time where information travels with speed and 24-news cycles repeat, seemingly endlessly, the faces and names of offenders and perpetrators. That onslaught sometimes obscures the message. The Day of Remembrance makes the politics of memory explicit: we need to remember the women who lose their lives or struggle to survive simply by virtue of being women, whether in school, in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or in Canada’s unsafe homes and streets. They should be named, not anonymous, and rescued, not abandoned.
Remember who victims of violence are.
Survivors of violence are not ‘the other’, they are friends, neighbours, classmates, colleagues, they are sisters, mothers, daughters. As a victim service worker with a sexual assault centre, I know from experience that women who experience violence are old, young, rich, and poor. No one is guaranteed immunity.
But women victims of economic, racial, or colonial oppression and those who live with disabilities are especially vulnerable. The context and intersections of oppression, exclusion, and vulnerability always matter.
Remember the role of government.
We all have a responsibility to act against violence against women, but laws and policy are an essential bulwark. After the shooting at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, the federal long-gun registry was created as a major deterrent. When the registry was eliminated in 2012, anti-violence activists, including parents of the murdered 14, were rightly outraged. A registry offers a practical expression of the guarantee of “equality, including life, liberty, and security of the person” gained in Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Similarly essential are laws such as the 1983 long overdue criminalization of the sexual assault of an intimate partner and government funding for interventions such transition houses, sexual assault centres, victims’ service workers, and advocates. If human rights have any meaning, they should be backed by legal enactment. The return of the long gun registry is an obvious necessity.
Remember the importance of women’s voices.
1989’s loss of women in Montreal’s engineering class should serve as only one more reminder of the necessity of women’s voices in determining the future. In the drafting Canada’s 1982 Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, diverse women’s groups presented submissions on the inclusion of rights. They were instrumental in the inclusion of ‘sex’ in Section 15 and the inclusion of Section 25. But Charter rights are not enough. The judiciary and elected office are similarly essential sites of action. In at least two cases, the women judges on the Supreme Court of Canada decided differently (in dissent) than their male colleagues on violations of women’s right to equality – (Symes v. Canada and Thibaudeau v. Canada). In 1982 a male-dominated House of Commons responded with jeers, shouts, and laughter when NDP MP Margaret Mitchell raised domestic violence as an important political issue – “I don’t beat my wife. Do you, George?” said one Conservative MP. Thirty years later Canadian women have yet to achieve the critical mass of 30% in most political institutions. Countless formal and informal women’s organizations continue to raise their voices against violence against women – from the First Nations women protesting against the Missing Women’s Inquiry to hundreds of ‘Take Back the Night’ marches.
Ultimately, December the 6th offers more than a moment to remember losses. It asks for action. This means donating your time, expertise, or resources to a women’s organization, writing to your MP or MLA, speaking out against violence against women, challenging violence myths, and encouraging support for survivors. Such actions do much to ensure that 14 women and many more are not forgotten.
Women’s Anti-Violence Organizations in Vancouver
Battered Women’s Support Services – http://www.bwss.org/
Canadian Women’s Foundation – http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence
Vancouver Rape Relieve and Women’s Shelter – http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/
Women Against Violence Against Women – http://www.wavaw.ca/
UBC Sexual Assault Support Centre – http://www.gotconsent.ca/
YWCA – http://www.ywcavan.org/content/Stopping_Violence_against_Women_/154
Wikipedia has a list of the victims on the downtown east side (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Pickton#More_victims) and the women who did at Polytechnique (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89cole_Polytechnique_massacre )
For a story marking the anniversary of the shooting and the concern over the ending of the gun registry http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/mps-mark-cole-polytechnique-massacre—but-tories-arent-welcome/article619817/?service=mobile
Mitchell, M. (2008). No Laughing Matter. Adventure, Activism, & Politics. Vancouver: Granville Island Publishing.
Status of Women – an introduction to the National Day of Remembrance and Action as well as some statistics – http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/dates/vaw-vff/index-eng.html