First Mourn, Then Work for Change
At first there was a ferocious debate. He was just a madman, they said. It had nothing to do with violence against women, they said. But we knew better. Why did we even have to argue the point? His suicide letter had a hit list of prominent feminists he wanted to kill. He shouted, "I hate feminists," as he fired. How much clearer could it be? If he had separated Jews from Gentiles and killed the Jews would anyone doubt it was a reflection of anti-semitism in the society? What would it take for society to recognize that too many men use violence to try and maintain their ancient domination of women?
In Quebec the debate continued for two years. It wasn't until the parents spoke out and themselves made the link between their daughters' deaths and the violence done to women that the media and politicians in Quebec finally accepted the link and stopped accusing women's groups of using the massacre to their own advantage.
In English Canada the debate was resolved more quickly. The media started to report on wife assault and murder. The politicians started to listen. After a two-year lobby campaign Parliament declared December 6 a national day of commemoration and action giving official sanction to what women and university students across the country were already doing. This year, on the 10th anniversary, Parliament will dedicate 15 roses, 14 for the women at Polytechnique and one for all the other victims of violence against women. Hedy Fry, the Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, has called for a minute of silence on December 6 at 2:15 pm ET.
The impact has been enormous. Gun control legislation is one obvious result, a doubling of women in the engineering profession is another. Less obvious is the heightened awareness of violence against women and children. Many people, like me, women and men were moved to join the struggle that women in rape crisis centres and women's shelters had been valiantly waging for years.
But the slaughter continues. In November, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) reported that 40 women a year are killed by their intimate partners in Ontario alone. In 1997-98, almost 28,000 women and children were admitted to 116 women's shelters in Ontario alone.
There have been improvements in the criminal justice system but putting violent men behind bars will not solve the problem. The root of this violence is male dominance. Men who attack and kill women are trying to dominate and control women.
In the days after the Montreal Massacre, a poster appeared with a single red rose and the names of the victims at Polytechnique and a single slogan: "First mourn then work for change."
On this the 10th anniversary of that terrible tragedy each and every one of us should recommit ourselves to work to end sexism and violence against women. The young women killed that day and the hundreds of women killed since that day deserve no less.
Judy Rebick is a writer, broadcaster and activist in Toronto.