There’s been a great deal that’s changed in the world since the last National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, but the need to gather and mark the day has not. With social distancing in mind, this year’s 31st remembrance of both the terrorist attack in Montreal three decades ago – and for all the women killed by men ever since – was held by candlelight in front of computer screens.
“This year has taught us that we cannot afford to take life for granted,” said Jensen Williams, the Public Educator at Guelph -Wellington Women in Crisis who led the memorial via Zoom. “For many, it has made us appreciative of what we have and very grateful for small moments of joy. For some, it has made us reflect on our privileges as this pandemic has highlighted, and the many inequities that have received an undeserving lack of attention until now.”
By privileges, Williams meant the fact that measures designed to stymie the spread of the virus also meant that some women are siloed with their abusers, and potential killers, at home. She also noted that this has been a big year for taking on systemic social change, and that the 50-some people taking part in Sunday’s memorial should consider it a call to action to take on one of the numerous issues that leads to gender-based violence.
“This year, there have been very important conversations and movements around injustices,” Williams said. “When we advocate for the ending of gender-based violence, we must also be advocating for the end of poverty, systemic racism, colonialism and anti-Indigenous racism, transphobia, and homophobia. This fight to end violence is for all of us or none of us.”
“I want us to set an intention this evening on how we can carry on this conversation, and this work, beyond today, and advocate for meaningful social, political and economic change through advocacy and action on affordable housing, a living wage, harm reduction, mental health initiatives and funding, and essential services that support survivors in our community,” Williams added.
Along with the names and stories of the 14 young women killed at L’École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989, Williams and a series of volunteers read the names of the 37 women and girls who were killed in Ontario in the last year. The list was compiled by the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH), who have been keeping a running list of the number of women and girls killed by men since 1995, and they say that there have been over 780 who have lost their life to gender-based violence.
“Whether it be current or former intimate partners, a man who’s known to them, a family member, or, in some cases, a stranger who targets them. When we label these incidents as just murder and not femicide we separate gender and violence, and effectively miss opportunities to reopen conversations on gender based violence,” Williams said.
The University of Guelph also marked December 6 with a video presentation, plus a written reflection by Kim Thompson, a program counsellor in the School of Engineering. Thompson was finishing a co-op program at the University of Cape Breton on the fateful day in December 1989, and her reaction is as visceral now as it was 31 years ago.
“As I was writing this, I noticed my upper abdominal muscles were in a state of near constant contraction. And every time I read it aloud resulted in an uncontrollable flow of tears and an inability to continue speaking. This is the reason you are reading it instead of watching a video,” Thompson wrote. “I just couldn’t do it. How can it be that I feel such raw emotion today, so much more than I did when it happened? They say time heals but I find myself wondering how much separation from pain and anger is necessary to begin to effectively tackle the monumental task called change.”
The memorial ended with a series of numbers people could call if they needed:
For the Women in Crisis 24-Hour Crisis Line call 519-836-5710, or 1-800-265-7233 (SAFE).
For Here 24/7 from Addictions, Mental Health & Crisis Services of Waterloo-Wellington call 1-844-437-3247.
Talk 4Healing, a service of Indigenous women that offers help in 14 languages, can be reached at 1-855-554-HEAL.
Kids Help Phone is also available by calling 1-800-668-6868, or you can get in touch with them via text by sending “GOOD2TALKON” to 686868.