Making lives safer
By Jenn Watt
Last Friday marked the 30th anniversary of the deaths of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal during the deadliest mass shooting in Canada’s history. It’s a date frequently described as a turning point, when a sense of safety was lost – especially for women.
Dec. 6 was marked this year with solemnity and resolve as dignitaries gathered at Mount Royal for a ceremony, which included 14 beams of light, reaching through the darkness into the sky representing the lives lost and the potential that will never be realized.
Their names – Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz – were read aloud by two current students at the school.
Not all of the women were engineering students, though most were, but each had her own dreams and plans for the years ahead. These were smart, ambitious women.
Their lives were taken by a gunman who sought them out, at one point separating the women from the men, killing 14 and injuring another 13. His suicide note explained that he believed feminists had ruined his life.
The anniversary is important to remember not only because it is a great national tragedy, but also because the gunman specifically targeted women and the feminist principles of gender equality and the right to self-determination that these women represented.
It was also a public manifestation of an epidemic of violence against women that continues to this day.
Of course, Haliburton County is not immune. At this year’s Take Back the Night march in September, a counsellor from the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton said her organization saw “a 30 per cent increase in the number of women seeking services by the transition support workers in Minden” from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019. There was a 38 per cent increase in those accessing the Haliburton Emergency Rural SafeSpace, also known as HERS.
According to the YWCA’s Impact Report for the last year, HERS was used for 935 nights by local women and children escaping abuse. That’s a 98 per cent occupancy rate.
Canada-wide, the Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that “On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home.”
There are very good programs out there to address violence against women, from helping those who have survived abuse to changing the culture so that women are treated equally and with respect, but they need constant support and advocacy.
For example, although the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre provides help for people from Haliburton County, it has no local office for local people to attend. A physical presence in the county could go a long way for those who have experienced trauma.
Dec. 6 gives us the reminder that there is much still to be done. Making progress requires acknowledgement of the problem, commitment to supporting existing programs and following up with private donations and our tax dollars.