The Thirtieth Anniversary of La Polytechnique: Where Are We Now?
This blog post is written by second year medical student, and FMWC National Student Representative, Maria Leis, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of La Polytechnique, or the Montreal Massacre. Today, December 6, 2019 the FMWC remembers 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, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, of la Polytechnique, our colleague Dr. Elana Fric, and all women who have experienced (or continue to experience) gender-based violence.
DISCLAIMER: This piece deals with the topics of violence, specifically gender based violence. Please only continue to read if you feel it is safe for you to do so.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the tragedy at La Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6th, 1989. 30 years ago, 14 female learners were gunned down in a brutal act of violence against women in a mechanical engineering class. The shooter entered the classroom and ordered the men and women to stand on opposite sides of the room, before instructing the men to leave. He stated he was “fighting feminism” before opening fire on all women in the room, shooting each and every one before moving on to other parts of the university. This tragedy remains the deadliest mass shooting in all of Canadian history.
Today, the United Nations reports that more than one in three women around the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence at some point during their lives. One out of every two women killed worldwide is murdered by an intimate partner or relative. Over 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to genital mutilation. Presently, the World Bank found that over one billion women worldwide lack legal protection against domestic sexual violence.
In Canada, the figures are disturbingly similar; one in three women experience sexual assault at some point during their lives. However, for every 100 incidents of sexual assault in our country, only six are reported to the police.
However, it is important to highlight the great improvements that have been made towards gender equality and the elimination of sexual assault both globally and within Canada. November 25th marks the annual campaign for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The global #MeToo movement saw women from across international borders unite to support one another in their experiences of sexual violence and harassment. In Canada specifically, we have seen increasing numbers of women in the STEM fields, Parliament Hill has taken important steps to ensure federal regulations to eliminate harassment and sexual violence from the workplace, and gender identity is now a protected right under the Canadian Human Rights Act, including amending the Criminal Code to include violence motivated by gender identity as a form of hate crime through Bill C-16: An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
So looking back over the past three decades, how much has our country truly progressed since that tragic day 30 years ago at La Polytechnique? This year also saw the culmination of the report on the National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This report is composed of the truths of more than 2380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers shared over two years of Canada-wide public hearings and interviews. The report provides disturbing, and compelling, evidence that deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s astonishingly high rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. Most notably, the Inquiry deemed the unspeakable violence against Indigenous women and girls a cultural genocide. Specifically, the report states “The violence the National Inquiry heard about amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.”
While many rightfully celebrate the stories heard through the National Inquiry, we must not forget the voices of the 4000-5000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls who have been forever silenced. What we are doing is not enough; we are losing women and girls every day to gender-based violence. The FWMC fully supports the 231 individual Calls for Justice, directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians. As physicians, we must recognize our own roles in deconstructing current colonial practices and working with women to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
So, is “fighting feminism” a tragedy of our past? I think it is fitting to look to a Montreal poet, G.D. Anderson, who famously wrote “Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” It is disheartening to see the patterns of the past repeating in our present. Although elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls is a target of the 2030 United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals, there is no room for violence of any kind against our population now or ever. As physicians, we find ourselves in a position of great privilege to advocate for those whose own voice may be silenced. I am hopeful for the day when “Me Too” is no longer a phrase women must consolidate together over, and our friends, sisters, and mothers can live without fear of harassment and assault.
Second Year Medical Student
FMWC National Student Representative
FMWC Gender Based Violence and Family Violence Committee Member