“I hate feminists,” screamed Mark Lepine to a classroom full of students at the Ecole Polytechnique in 1989. Lepine then instructed the 25 men in the class to leave and proceeded to shoot the 28 remaining women, killing 14 of them.
On Dec. 6, a candlelight vigil was held by Women Won’t Forget at Philosopher’s Walk on the grounds of the University of Toronto. It marked the 23rd anniversary of the Montreal massacre and commemorated other acts of violence against women.
One of the of the speakers at the vigil was Angel Wolfe, the daughter of Brenda Wolfe, who was murdered by Robert Pickton, the notorious pig farmer turned serial killer in British Columbia.
Pickton was convicted of murdering six women, but was later charged with the murder of 20 more women, many of whom were sex workers and had substance abuse issues.
At the time, the police were criticized for ignoring the missing persons reports filed by families. Many of the missing women were sex workers and the cases were not taken seriously, critics said.
“I was offered $10,000 from the victim’s crime unit. That money means nothing. My mother will never be there for me,” Wolfe said.
Aboriginal women in Canada face more instances of violence and discrimination. They are also at higher risk of substance abuse.This is in part due to the poverty and isolation that is prevalent on many reserves.
“Canada needs to wake up and see the body count,” Wolfe said. “There are 1,000 plus aboriginal women who are either missing or murdered. This is an atrocity. This is genocide.”
Some of the solutions to the problems faced by aboriginal women is to increase the number of substance abuse treatment centres and shelters, according to Wolfe.She also stressed the need to stop promoting sex work to aboriginal women.
Another speaker at the event was Susan H. Young, the director of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH).
According to Young, 50 per cent of women will experience some form of violence. This number, she said, is much higher among aboriginals, immigrants and women with disabilities.
“Some work has been done to address this, but not enough,” Young said. “The Canadian government needs a national action plan to tackle the issue of poverty, safe housing and childcare for women.”
There has been a severe lack of funding for shelters for women attempting to leave abusive partners, and that two out of three women who are referred to shelters have to be turned away, she said. She also noted that 71 per cent of women who leave abusive partners often return to them due to lack of safe housing.
“Violence against women and girls is a responsibility for all, and we welcome men who are allies,”Young said.
Lynda Kosowan, executive director of Scarborough Women’s Centre, said that the experience of violence against women is similar throughout our community.
“There are many great resources available to help women be safer. Many of them are under-resourced, and could benefit from additional funding,” Kosowan said.
The solutions focus on the origins of inequality and how our social constructs propagates it, Kosowan maintained.
“Violence against women is about power and control. It is related to the ongoing fight for women’s equality and freedom from violence and oppression,” Kosowan said.
It is important to make it safe to talk about these issues and to recognize best practices for working together to build a safe and inspiring environment where people can flourish,she concluded.