[This is a piece I wrote to share this morning with my students before watching the film A Better Man.]
Today is December 6, 2017, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. On this day in 1989, a young man who was so convinced that it was feminism and not his own shortcomings that prevented him from entering a university-level Engineering program, walked into Montréal’s l’École Polytechnique with a gun, demanded that men go to one side of the room and women to the other, and he opened fire on the women, screaming, “You’re all a bunch of fucking feminists!”
Today, we remember the murders of
Geneviève Bergeron, 21
Hélène Colgan, 23
Nathalie Croteau, 23
Barbara Daigneault, 22
Anne-Marie Edward, 21
Maud Haviernick, 29
Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz, 31
Maryse Laganière, 25
Maryse Leclair, 23
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
Sonia Pelletier, 23
Michèle Richard, 21
Anne St-Arneault, 23
Annie Turcotte, 21.
We remember that we have lost the potential these women, mostly Engineering students, could have grown into had their lives not been cut short that day 28 years ago.
This was one of those moments, those historical moments in time where years later, you can still turn to a peer and say, “I remember where I was when I heard the news.” I can say with 100% certainty that my identification with feminism was cemented that day, a few days before my 16th birthday.
As we’re gathered together, it’s important for us to acknowledge the land on which we’re currently situated, the traditional territories of the Wendat, the Anishnabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, as well as an important stop on the travel and trade routes of the Metis Nation. We need to acknowledge the historic and ongoing violence enacted against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit peoples as part of the colonial enterprise we call Canada.
We need to acknowledge the more than four THOUSAND missing and murdered women, girls, and Two-Spirit people, their lives treated as disposable by settlers in their communities.
We need to remember 34-year-old Barbara Kentner, who succumbed to her injuries months after a young white man in her community threw a trailer hitch at her head from a speeding car, yelling, “I got one!”
We need to acknowledge that several RCMP officers have been accused of physically and sexually assaulting Indigenous women and girls.
We need to acknowledge that violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people is a weapon of colonialism, and that their lives simply aren’t valued by those who have access to power.
We also need to acknowledge other women who have been accorded less value in our communities, and recognize that their risks of experiencing violence are substantially higher than the 14 white traditionally educated women murdered on this day 28 years ago.
We need to speak the name of Alloura Wells, a 27-year-old Black trans woman who went missing in July, whose loved ones were told by police that her whereabouts were not a priority to them, in spite of the fact that her unidentified body was laying in the morgue AT THAT EXACT TIME. Her body was only identified, her loved ones only given some level of closure, last week.
The murders of trans women of colour are often far more brutal and inhumane, hyperviolent, largely because of how our agents of power have chosen to dehumanize them for having lives outside of rigid normative roles.
We need to speak the name of Tess Richey, a 22-year-old white woman whose mother had to come to Toronto from North Bay to find her dead child in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood last week. We need to talk about how police expressed disinterest in looking for her, and how her hometown newspaper published that she was a “suspected” sex worker.
Sex workers are at serious risk of violence, again, because we have decided that their lives are worth less. The police are less likely to act quickly if sex workers disappear, and the workers themselves are far less likely to report violence to police (as are Indigenous women and trans women), because the risk of being further victimized, further abused, in the process.
We also need to acknowledge the increased risk of violence, particularly sexual violence, women and children of all genders with developmental disabilities face. Up to 70% of developmentally disabled women will experience physical, emotional, and sexual violence at least once in their lifetimes, and often at the hands of the people they trust most for basic care support.
We need to acknowledge that these can be overlapping identities. Those women and people read as women who are Indigenous and/or racialized, who are sex workers, whose genders push back against normative notions, who are disabled in any way but particularly on developmental or intellectual levels – their risk of experiencing violence and being murdered as a result of misogyny, transmisogyny, racism, ableism, and colonialism are higher than the risks of women who live even one of these identities, and exponentially higher than those who share none of these identifiers.
On this December 6th, 28 years after the Montreal Massacre, we remember the impact of violence against all women and those read as women.