Sunday, December 06, 2009

It was 20 years ago that Marc Lepine went on a rampage at the École Polytechnique in Montréal. Blaming "feminists" for his failures in life he entered that engineering school armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife. In the end 14 people, all women, were dead and 14 others, ten of them women, were injured. Lepine ended by killing himself. The full details of the incident can be read at a Wikipedia article on the subject.

Since that day November 6 has become an officially recognized 'National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women'. Here in Winnipeg two events were held today, one a showing of the film 'Polytechnique' at the University of Winnipeg and the other a candlelight vigil in front of the office of Conservative MP Shelley Glover. Tomorrow there will be a candlelight march beginning at 7:30 am (!!!) from the Union Centre at 275 Broadway to the Legislature down the road. A memorial service will follow. Here are several statements on the import of this day. First, from the Canadian Labour Congress.
National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women December 6, 2009:
Posted: Friday, 27 November 2009
On December 6th, we mourn the 14 women killed in Montreal in 1989. On this day we remember all women who are murdered or experience violence by partners, family members and strangers throughout this country. On this day we recommit to take action against all forms of violence against women in our society.

This December 6th will mark 20 years since those 14 young women were murdered in Montreal simply because they were women. Ironically, as this anniversary approaches, our government is trying to do away with the firearms registry, the one concrete measure taken to reduce gun violence against women.

We recognize that ending this violence will only be possible when all women in Canada live in economic and social equality. We know that fighting violence requires governments to pursue an integrated legal, social and economic agenda.

For twenty years, women have been waiting for action. Twenty years is too long. On this anniversary of the December 6th murders, Canadians can take action to demand a serious government commitment to ending violence against women.

The Canadian Labour Congress has developed a campaign asking Canadians to send 20 postcard messages to the federal government. The campaign is called “20 Days 20 Ways to End Violence Against Women”.

Beginning on November 16th, Canadians can send a postcard every day to the Prime Minister to remind him that we need action now.

The CLC’s 20 Days 20 Ways campaign recognizes that a law and order agenda will never end violence against women. Women need a series of comprehensive social and economic policies including:
*maintaining the long gun registry, which has reduced gun-related spousal homicides by 50% since it was started.
*access to affordable, safe housing;
*a living minimum wage;
*effective pay equity laws;
*a national publicly-funded child care programme;
*equal access to Employment Insurance;
*access to justice, including the resources to challenge discriminatory government action and legal aid;
*increased governmental support for women’s centres, rape crisis centres and women’s shelters;
*legal protection and support for women who report sexual assault.

Rather than promoting women’s equality, the federal government is severely limiting women’s capacity to organize, advocate and lobby. They won’t support women’s equality in the workplace and have limited women’s rights to challenge discrimination before the courts.

Canadians cannot accept an erosion of our hard-won and still fragile equality rights. We will not be silenced by the socially conservative government agenda.

We call on the federal government to reverse its policy decisions on childcare, pay equity, the gun registry, the Court Challenges Program and Status of Women Canada. We call on the government to drop its law and order agenda and instead, develop an effective women’s equality agenda.
20 years later, remember and take action:
December 4, 2009 01:11 PM
This December 6 marks the 20th year that we remember and mourn the 14 women who were shot and killed at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989.
While December 6 is a day of remembrance, it has also become a national day of action to address the many outstanding issues that continue to threaten the safety and security of women.
CUPE is participating in the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) December 6 postcard campaign, which outlines 20 different measures that the federal government can take to improve the safety and security of women.
At our recent national convention, the National Women’s Committee highlighted the issue of violence against women by encouraging delegates to participate in The Handkerchief Project to end violence against women and girls.
The money raised was matched by CUPE National and a donation was sent to the Sisters in Spirit, an organization addressing violence against Aboriginal women - in particular the high rates of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.
In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the tragic events of December 6, CUPE has updated its poster “Until all Women are Free to Be”, available from the Equality Branch.
There are ceremonies across the country honouring the memory of those women who died on December 6. We encourage CUPE locals and members to participate in these events in your communities.
CUPE will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure that women have economic and social security so that they truly can be safe at home, at work, and in our communities
And from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)
December 6 — National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women:
Downloadthe 2010 National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada poster

December 6, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women – still one of the most important days of commemoration on our calendar. It marks the sombre anniversary of the day in 1989 when a disturbed young man used a rifle to murder 14 women at a Montreal engineering school – singling them out simply for being women.
Most of us remember vividly learning the grim details of the Montreal massacre as the news emerged. Such a calami­tous event, it was fair to think, would certainly result in posi­tive changes for women in the future. And there have been changes for the better – the general awareness of issues involving violence against women has definitely grown.
But, 20 years from the Montreal tragedy, are we really farther ahead? Aware­ness and education are vital factors, but women are still victims of violence with alarming regularity. And today our federal government continues to procrastinate and even move backwards on legislation and policies that affect women’s safety and well-being.
At a time when vision and action are needed, the Harper Conservative government is sadly lacking. Programs that would help women are being cut or ignored rather than growing or being enhanced. The 20th anniversary of the events in Montreal must be a wake-up call to our leaders to take action for positive change for women in Canada.
In solidarity,
Wayne Hanley
National President
Many other statements could be appended, and I am sure that they would all express noble and lofty sentiments. There is a problem here, however. Most of these statements express the sentiment that the government must do something. Such opinions are, of course, common in any statist society where it is seeming "common sense" that for anything to be done effectively it has to be done by government. It is, however, sad to see this way of thinking expressed by labour groups who should know better than others that government action tails effective action by those most concerned rather than initiates it. At best government action makes achieving a certain goal that many people are already working towards a little bit easier. It never initiates such action, and it quite often derails and prevents such civil society action from achieving the fullest expression of its goals.
That doesn't mean that such legislation should be opposed, though I think the long gun registry is one piece of repressive legislation that should be abolished. It can, after all, have minor benefits. In relation to the subject of women and their advancement one should ask the old chicken and egg question. How many of the gains that women have made over the past decades were due to government action ? How much of such legislation was merely a response to formalize gains that were already well under way by the "molecular action" of society outside the state ? How much does a focus on government detract from a focus of what people, women included and especially, have to do themselves ? Questions to ponder now that the day of remembrance and (entirely) symbolic action is over.

No comments: