Remembering Murdered Women Not Enough: Advocates

Amalia Colussi and Sarah Petrescu, The Martlet

VICTORIA (CUP) — Remembering the women who died in the Montreal Massacre is not enough, say women’s advocates in B.C.

As the 13th memorial approaches for the women who died on December 6, 1989, advocates say just remembering the victims could be considered hypocritical.

“Nobody wants to talk about the real issues of why women are being killed in this province right now,” said Penny Bain from the B.C. Institute Against Family Violence.

Bain said the majority of violence against women is within relationships. 51 per cent of all Canadian women have experienced sexual or physical violence, according to a recent Stats Can report. Close to 60 per cent of these women survived more than one violent incident.

Bain said cutbacks to social services by the B.C. Liberal government put women at a greater risk of staying in violent relationships by limiting their financial and emotional abilities to leave. “The whole system has turned a blind eye,” said Bain. “People don’t want to face up to the fact that for women it is often a lot less safe to be at home.”

Each year since the 14 female students at L’ecole Polytechnique University in Montreal were murdered by fellow student Marc Lepine in 1989, Canadians have gathered in various vigils and ceremonies to raise awareness and pay tribute.

In commemoration of the massacre, December 6 was officially proclaimed by the provincial government as “Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in British Columbia.”

Last year, Lynn Stevens, the Minister of State for Women’s Equality, issued a message declaring that the deaths of the women in Montreal “became a catalyst for ongoing work to overcome violence against women:They moved us to stand up and say that violence against women–or anyone–is simply not acceptable.”

Cindy L’Hirondelle, coordinator of the Victoria Status of Women Action Group (SWAG), said Stevens and the B.C. Liberal government are not working to end violence against women.

SWAG is boycotting the Dec. 6 events altogether. For the past two years they have demonstrated against the vigils. Last year, they laid out 60 pink socks on the B.C. Legislature steps to symbolize the 60 women missing from Vancouver’s downtown eastside.

“There are 500 missing First Nations women in Western Canada,” said L’Hirondelle. “This is a constant problem, especially in the North.”

Government cuts have also forced some women into the sex trade, as they look for ways to make ends meet, she said. “What’s going to happen in April?” she asked, referring to the next round of welfare cuts.

Rose Henry, from the Capital Region Race Relations Association, said violence against certain women is often overlooked or ignored. Abuse of First Nations women and women in the sex trade, for example, doesn’t get talked about, she said.

Many First Nations women find trusting a society or system that is not always culturally sensitive to be an obstacle, said Henry. The CRRRA offers counselling, support groups, workshops and other assistance to those impacted by racism.

Henry herself has overcome a violent relationship with an alcoholic and abusive first husband.

“I asked my friends for help, but I had to keep asking over a series of years before I was willing to accept that help and change my way of life,” she said. “It took having a baby to realize I had to do something. Even then, making a change was difficult. It took a long time before I felt like taking the risk of being on my own. This is the problem, what a lot of abused women feel. They don’t want to be alone,” said Henry.

Frontline advocates like Bains, L’Hirondelle and Henry are not the only critics of the government’s current methods of addressing issues of violence against women. According to a recent report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, B.C. fails to meet their standards of opposing and preventing violence against women.

“The Committee is concerned about a number of recent changes in British Columbia which have a disproportionately negative impact on women, in particular Aboriginal women,” the report stated.

The report criticizes the cutbacks to legal aid and welfare assistance, the incorporation of the Ministry of Women’s Equality under the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services, the abolition of the Human Rights Commission, the closing of a number of courthouses and the proposed changes to the prosecution of domestic violence, as well as cuts to support programs for victims.

“It may be possible that B.C. is the only province ever singled out like this,” said L’Hirondelle, who said the government needs to commit to developing solutions.

“People are giving up,” she said. “They don’t have the energy it takes to stick up for themselves and many women are staying in abusive situations.”