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

[CN: gun violence against women]

Today, December 6th, is Canada's National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It marks the anniversary of the death of 14 women who were engineering students at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal on December 6, 1989. The gunman's suicide note blamed feminists for ruining his life, and included a list of 19 feminists he planned to kill. Although the note was explicit about his anti-feminist and misogynistic political motivations, the initial media narrative, predictably, portrayed him as a crazed loner. The 1991 designation of December 6th as a National Day of Remembrance by Parliament has helped ensure that that the true nature of this crime is remembered.

I will not name the gunman, but will focus on remembering the women who lost their lives that day:

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Nathalie Croteau

Barbara Daigneault

Anne-Marie Edward

Maud Haviernick

Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Anne-Marie Lemay

Sonia Pelletier

Michèle Richard

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Like other women who have lost their lives to gender-based violence, each of these women had hopes and dreams, a life, and loves. A little bit about some of them from CTV:

Annie St-Arneault: A mechanical engineering student from La Tuque, Que., a Laurentian pulp and paper town in the upper St-Maurice River valley. Lived in a small apartment in Montreal. Her friends considered her a fine student. Was killed as she sat listening to a presentation in her last class before graduation. Had a job interview with Alcan Aluminium scheduled for the following day. Had talked about eventually getting married to the man who had been her boyfriend since she was a teenager.

Annie Turcotte: Was in her first year and lived with her brother in a small apartment near the university. Was described as gentle and athletic -- was a diver and a swimmer. Went into metallurgical engineering so she could one day help improve the environment.

Barbara Daigneault: Was to graduate at the end of the year. A teaching assistant for her father Pierre Daigneault, a mechanical engineering professor with the city's other French-language engineering school at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal.

Maryse Laganiere: The only non-student killed. Worked in the budget department of the engineering school. Had recently married.

Sonia Pelletier: The head of her class and the pride of St-Ulric, Que., her remote birthplace in the Gaspe peninsula. Had five sisters and two brothers. Was killed the day before she was to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering. Had a job interview lined up for the following week.

The gunman's plans to murder 19 feminists had a profound and chilling effect. In a 2014 story, two of the women on his list of intended targets, Monique Simard and Francine Pelletier, described the aftermath:

Simard, president of Quebec’s film and culture foundation, SODEC, was a trail-blazing union leader in 1989. “My reaction was, Oh my God, these young women are the victims because he couldn’t get to us,” she says in an interview from her office in Old Montreal.

Pelletier, a prominent Quebec journalist — then and now — founded a feminist newspaper in the 1980s, La Vie en Rose. Two days after the killings, her editor at La Presse called her. “Have you see today’s paper,” asked Alain Dubuc. She hadn’t. “Brace yourself,” he told her. That day, La Presse published the names of the 19 women, which had been leaked to a police reporter. “Your name is on it,” he said.

“It broke my heart,” says Pelletier. “It didn’t change who I was. But many of his victims probably weren’t even feminists (and) I felt they died in my name.

“For me, Polytechnique sounded the death knell of the glory days of feminism. Those days were gone when he started shooting. Feminism wouldn’t be easy anymore.”

Today, december 6th has become a day to take action, in memory of the 14 women who lost their lives in 1989, as well as of other women who have lost their lives to gender-based violence. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's statement reflects this idea:

“On this somber anniversary, let us reflect on what Canadians – women, men, and youth – can do to rid the country and the planet of the scourges of misogyny and gender-based violence.

“The statistics on violence against girls and women are unacceptable. Far too many girls and women, here in Canada and around the world, suffer physical and psychological harm at the hands of others – often people they love and trust.

“On this day – and every day – we recommit ourselves to finding solutions that help prevent future acts of violence. Men and boys are a vital part of the solution to change attitudes and behaviours that allow for this violence to exist. There must be zero tolerance for violence against women, and only with everyone’s support can we build a Canada that is safe for all.

“As we mourn today with the families and friends of those bright and talented young women who were victims of that senseless act of hatred, I encourage everyone to think about how their own personal actions matter. Start by joining the conversation online using the hashtag #ActionsMatter. Together we can change minds and stop gender-based violence before it starts.”

In Canada today, there will be marches and vigils across the country. But wherever we live, today is a good day to take whatever concrete actions we are able to end gender-based violence, whether that is donating to an organization dedicated to addressing gendered violence, finding time to volunteer with a local organization dedicated to addressing the needs of those targeted by gender based violence, educating oneself about bills in state/provincial/national legislatures with implications for gendered violence, or otherwise finding a way to contribute to the fight, as our individual resources and abilities allow us to.

If you're at a loss to get started, here are a few ideas for ways to help fight vioence against Indigenous women. You might also like to check out Feministing's list of groups working to address violence against trans folk. Or, you might look at UN Women's webpage and learn about the many global initiatives they are supporting which help women and girls. Those are just a few ideas. I invite you to share your own resources in comments. As always, please respect that different people give support in different ways.

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