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December 6 National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

November 21, 2000

At 11 am on December 6, I will pause for a minute, no matter what I am doing. Joining with women and men across Canada, I will remember the 14 young women who were murdered by a man at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal December 6, 1989.

I will remember that they were murdered because they were women.

I don’t question that most of us are repelled by and abhor violence. I question what we are doing about it, and what we are doing about violence against women.

Women in Canada make up the vast majority of victims of crimes against the person, including:

  • sexual assault and other types of sexual offences
  • spousal violence – four out of five victims of spousal homicide are female
  • criminal harassment or “stalking” – female victims are overwhelmingly stalked by men
  • kidnapping or abduction

On an on it goes. This sad reality is true, right around the world.

One of the very first memorials to the women who died in Montreal in 1989 – a poster – said: “First mourn, then work for change.”

Think about the name of this National Day, National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which was established by the Parliament of Canada in 1991.

We mourn the murders of:

Genevieve Bergeron | 21
Helene Colgan | 23
Nathalie Croteau | 23
Barbara Daigneault | 22
Anne-Marie Edward | 21
Maud Haviernick | 29
Barbara Maria Klucznik | 31
Maryse Laganiere | 25
Maryse Leclair | 23
Anne-Marie Lemay | 27
Sonia Pelletier | 28
Michele Richard | 21
Annie St-Arneault | 23
Annie Turcotte | 21

On December 6, 1989, a man entered the School of Engineering at Ecole Polytechnique, University of Montreal. He went to several classrooms, saying:

You [women] have no right being here.

He separated the women from the men.

He then systematically murdered these 14 young women. In his suicide letter he wrote:

... I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker.

Twelve of these women were engineering students, one a grad student and instructor. The other two women were an administration staff worker and a health sciences student.

As physicist Ursula Franklin said to engineering students in 1995:

This event has become a benchmark for all of us – because so much changed in the wake of this tragedy; it changed perceptions and interpretations of the climate and the realities of life for women in engineering. In light of the sudden, horrible realization of what had happened in Montreal, it became possible – likely for the first time in Canada – to say, “this could have happened at OUR university, it could have happened in MY class.” There was a quantum leap in reality recognition across this country.

After you mourn, what will your action be? Send us a message – let us know what you are doing in your family, your neighbourhood, your school or community centre or charity or church, and let us know what you are saying to our governments about your expectations and their obligations?

We can make our mourning and our call to action visible, reminding and encouraging others, by wearing a symbol on December 6. It could be a purple ribbon or a white ribbon. It could be one of the rose buttons that have become a symbol of all women whose lives are touched by violence.

As you set out on your personal journey to contribute to ending violence against women, you have many options for action. You can find your way to something that is already underway, or you can take inspiration and create your own action.

The December 6 Fund of Toronto is an example of an action that grew directly out of the Montreal Massacre and the desire to create change. It started as a volunteer organization with a very specific focus – to raise money that is used to provide interest-free loans to women fleeing abuse, and is now run by the YWCA. Our external links section includes one to the December 6 Fund, if you would like to help a woman in need.

Another initiative that was a direct response to the Montreal Massacre is the Coalition for Gun Control. The use of guns in violent crimes is not unique to violence against women, but it is a significant aspect of violence against women. Whatever your ultimate view on gun control, you owe it to yourself and others in your community to be informed on the issue.

Often one of the first things we do when our attention is caught, is to find out more about it. This can help each of us to decide where to focus, where to use our unique personalities, experiences and skills.

At one time, a good starting point for an overview of the subject of violence against women was the bilingual Organizer’s Tool Kit that Status of Women Canada prepared for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It made clear that:

  • violence against women can take many forms
  • violence touches women of all ages and all ethno-cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, but some women are more vulnerable than others
  • most acts of violence are an attempt to assert control over others
  • equality between men and women is key to ending violence against women

The Organizer’s Tool Kit had suggestions for activities for December 6 and for actions to eliminate violence against women, as well as connections to resources on the subject. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This document has not been available online since 2006. | Updated April 3, 2008.]

There are organizations in your community, in your province and at the national level that are committed to addressing the needs of today’s victims and reducing the number of tomorrow’s victims. The website womennet.ca has a directory by province, which includes links to groups working to end violence against women. These organizations could certainly use your ideas and involvement. Take a look at what your province has to offer.

Women in Vancouver, British Columbia, gather at The Women’s Monument, called Marker of Change, in Thornton Park. It consists of 14 benches made of pink granite from Quebec, arranged in a 300-foot circle. The monument was designed by Beth Alber and states, “We, their sisters and brothers, remember, and work for a better world. In memory and in grief for all the women who have been murdered by men. For woman of all countries, all classes, all ages, all colours.”

We may have heard the saying “there is strength in numbers.” While that may be true in many settings, we have learned that there is strength in commitment.

The 14 women who were murdered so needlessly and so brutally in Montreal – and all the other women from coast to coast to coast who have been hurt or killed – urge us to make the commitment:

  • to learn,
  • to commit,
  • to act,
  • to make change.
resources for this story
  • Remembering December 6th, by BETSY McKELVEY, The Toronto Board of Education. An aid for commemorating the 14 women who died in Montreal on December 6, 1989, and all women who are victims of violence. It includes ideas on what works in the classroom, and what a school can do – develop a display, create a memorial, hold an assembly, read the names, plan a campaign or fundraiser. It also includes information on girls and women in Canada, and other resources on remembering December 6.
    For a copy, contact the Equity Studies Centre, Toronto Board of Education, 155 College Street, 6th Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1P6, (416)397-3795.
  • Speaking Out Against Violence, a National Film Board video collection that includes:
    — After the Montreal Massacre, No. 9190 097, making the connection between the massacre and male violence against women.
    — The Vienna Tribunal, No. 9194 093, women from around the world testify at the Global Tribunal on Violations of Women’s Human Rights during the UN World Conference on Human Rights.
    Call the National Film Board at 1-800-267-7710 or send a fax marked “Attention: Speaking Out Against Violence” to 514-496-2573.
  • For a list of contact information for women’s centres and transition houses across Canada, contact Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.
  • Dating Violence: Young Women in Danger, by BARRY LEVY, ed. About violence in the lives of teenagers and young adults. Seal Press, Seattle | 1991
  • The Montreal Massacre, by LOUISE MALETTE and MARIE CHALOUH, eds., translated by Marlene Wildeman. About the reaction in Quebec to the murder of the 14 women. gynergy books | 1991

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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