Reproduced from my Dec. 2021 blog post in Another Ruined Dinner Party. This article refers to the massacre as 32 years ago, but today it’s 33 years. On that day in 1989, I walked to the Bowl on the University of Saskatchewan campus in the dark, in sub-zero temperatures, and in the deep snow. I walked with Edmonton author, Myna Kostash, who was in Saskatoon as a writer in residence. We attended a rally and demonstration of rage — organised mere hours after we heard the tragic news.
Maybe what comes out of the Montreal Massacre – 32 years later is this: women are targets for men’s rage.
No matter what women do, or women say – women who stand up to men, or say no to men or confront men (whether actually, or potentially or symbolically) become targets. Of course shooting women, or killing them with knives or cross-bows is extreme. Still it happens.
Back to 25 year old Marc Lépine in Montreal on that snowy Dec. 6, 1989. Before he opened fire, Lépine shouted: “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!” One student who survived, Nathalie Provost, protested: “I’m not feminist, I have never fought against men.” Lépine shot her anyway.
What this shows is that women – even if they don’t openly challenge men — are seen as the enemy by misogynists, and “Incels” and many ordinary men.
We hear that women have come a long way in their fight for equality. In divorce, women suffer dramatic declines in their household incomes , their standard of living and often lose their housing and lose their footing on the housing “ladder”— in comparison to their ex-husbands.
Some ask why do we continue to make so much of a single act of violence. Yet, it is clear that Lépine himself considered his act, not as a personal outburst, but as a symbolic gesture. It is important that we do the same when we grieve.
Women are still a long way from easily obtaining abortions in two out of three Maritime provinces. Health Canada, in its 2016-17 Annual Report, wrote that New Brunswick’s lack of coverage for abortions “remains a concern.” This is because that province only funds abortion services at hospitals, not at clinics. PEI refused to provide abortions for 35 years, until 2017, when the government allowed a clinic to open. In PEI, medical abortions are restricted to the first 10 weeks; surgical abortions are allowed only until 12 weeks and six days.
In the last 20 years, the wage gap between men and women has shrunk by only 5.5%. On average, men earned 18.8% more than women in 1998, and only 13.3% more in 2018. It still means women make 89 cents for every $1 that men do.
Women have barely made a dent in the struggle for equal pay for work of equal value (also known as pay equity). Pay equity has all but fallen off the negotiating table when trade unions bargain and in some jurisdictions, legislated pay equity is in retreat.
The federal Liberals promised childcare in their budget as far back as 1993. But 28 years later, too many women are deprived of jobs and career advancement, while others can’t attend school because there is a lack of affordable childcare across the country. The exception is Quebec, which started $10 a day childcare 24 years ago. Last week, thousands of childcare workers who staff 400 government-subsidized daycare centres in Quebec cared enough about the lower paid workers in their centres to go on strike to demand pay raises for kitchen staff and maintenance workers at the daycares, and an improvements to working conditions.
While women suffer from out and out discrimination, in terms of earnings, jobs and opportunities, men continue to act as their policemen and their bosses, both at home and at work.
The fact is that even speaking openly about rebelling against men, against husbands, against boyfriends, against fathers, against bosses – can be dangerous.
What the last three decades of “progress” have shown are that even in 2020, one Canadian girl or woman was killed every 2.5 days. That is a nearly 9% increase in femicides from 2019. Last year, 41% of the 160 females were killed by current or former intimate partners.
“[Violence against women] is also a characteristic of patriarchal social structures and systems such as the police, courts, corrections, our governments, our education systems, healthcare and our media… it is part of the fabric of everyday life of women and girls”from Call It Femicide: Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) at the University of Guelph
Ottawa-based author, sexual violence educator and activist Julie Lalonde details in her book, Resilience is Futile, that she was abused and endured rape by her boyfriend for five years. When she finally left him, he stalked her. As she points out in the book,
“I had survived something that was statistically impossible. Stalking kills. Domestic violence kills. Ontario’s domestic violence death review committee has a list of red flags for a woman experiencing domestic violence who is at risk of homicide. I met nearly all the criteria. i should not have survived. Yet, i was here. Countless women weren’t. the burden felt unbearable.” why did the burden feel unbearable?”Julie Lalonde in TVO interview here.
We can also look at the ongoing Lionel Desmond Inquiry. In rural Nova Scotia, Desmond – a 33 year old Black veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan with the Canadian military — shot his mother, his wife and his 10-year-old daughter in their home before turning the gun on himself. His wife, Shanna, had recently graduated as a registered nurse and had threatened to leave him.
We need only look at Nova Scotia’s 2020 Portapique Massacre in 2020, in which 13 of the 22 people killed by shooter Gabriel Wortman were female. The police have suggested that most of the shootings were not random. While the inquiry – after several serious delays – is scheduled to begin in January 2022 (21 months after the massacre), its focus is clearly on domestic violence. According to police and the mainstream media, Wortman’s violence was stoked by an argument he had that night with his girlfriend. However the justice system is very reluctant to examine other factors which radiate male power – such as Wortman owning and boasting about his arsenal of guns, his wearing police uniform and driving around in a decommissioned, yet look-alike RCMP cruiser. The justice department has deliberately steered away from looking at the murders through a feminist lens.
Thirty-two years ago, the media in Quebec and Ontario – which took their cue from the police and justice system – ignored the message in Marc Lépine’s suicide note. The media insisted Lépine was a crazy man—that the fact that the 14 murder victims were women was mere coincidence. Francine Pelletier, was and still is, a leading Quebec journalist. She herself was a target of Lépine. Police found her name at the top of his “annex” –the list of feminists Lépine had planned to kill. In his note he wrote the women on the list “nearly died today. The lack of time (because I started too late) has allowed more radical feminists to survive.”
Thirty-two years ago, Pelletier insisted that Lépine’s actions were highly political, that he targeted women and that he knew exactly what he was doing on Dec. 6.
“I always felt those women died in my name. Some of them probably weren’t even feminist,” Pelletier said, “they just had the nerve to believe they were peers, not subordinates of their male classmates.” You can read more on the massacre in my blog here.
“I always felt those women died in my name. Some of them probably weren’t even feminist… they just had the nerve to believe they were peers, not subordinates of their male classmates.” Journalist Francine Pelletier
December 6, will not be easily forgotten. The December Man, Colleen Murphy’s excellent play which won the 2007 Governor General’s Award for English-language Drama, just finished a run at Halifax’s Bus Stop Theatre is a serious reminder. Another reminder is a shocking interview here with Lépine’s mother, Monique. It’s also work reading her and her 2008 book Aftermath, about the murders and her son, the murderer. It’s in the public library.
On another note, Equity Watch is presenting a free webinar featuring Julie Lalonde, sexual violence educator and author, on Wed. Dec. 15, 2021. You can watch it on our site, for free: EquityWatch.ca
Featured Image: Memorial plaque in Montreal, tribute to the 14 murdered women. Read this.