December 6, 2014, marks 25 years to the day since 14 engineering students were massacred in a dorm invasion in 1989 at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, and across Canada, vigils and a moment of silence were held throughout the day.
Each year December 6 is marked as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, uniting Canada in opposition to all forms of anti-female violence. From the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to the Prime Minister’s office, leaders vowed to work toward a more peaceful existence for women, be they indigenous or non-Native.
“Now more than ever we’ve seen First Nations and Canadians standing up to end violence,” said Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Alexis, who coordinates the organization’s work on violence against indigenous women and girls. “We cannot lose this momentum and we cannot stand down. Together we can achieve safety for our peoples and our communities, and this is why I reiterate the need for concrete action and tangible results and why the upcoming National Roundtable is so essential as a next step in our efforts to address and end violence against Indigenous women and girls.”
He reaffirmed the AFN’s commitment to a round table in February that will address the issue of the more than 1,100 aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing over the past 20 years, many of their cases remaining unsolved. In addition, a ceremony will be held for assault survivor Rinelle Harper, a 16-year-old who barely escaped with her life last month after being attacked twice by the same pair of men next week when the AFN elects a new national chief in Winnipeg next week. Two arrests have been made, and Harper is recuperating from her injuries.
The commemoration of women’s lives went further than the AFN and aboriginal women, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper releasing a statement as well.
“Twenty-five years later, we still cannot comprehend how such an atrocity could be committed in Canada,” Harper said. “On this tragic anniversary, we remember the women who have been affected by violence and recommit ourselves to taking action on violence against women.”
He cited community-based projects that his government is supporting, including the White Ribbon Campaign that is aimed at making men and boys more sensitive to gender-based violence, and highlighted initiatives targeting indigenous victims of violence specifically.
“We are also taking steps to address violence against Aboriginal women and girls through our recently announced Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls, which supports prevention activities for women, children and families on-reserve,” Harper said.
“The memory of this tragedy remains undiminished in the minds of Canadians. One thing is certain: We must continue to act to ensure that such tragedies never occur again,” said Governor General David Johnston in a separate statement. “Whatever the form, whatever the motives, violence has no place in our society. Fraught with consequences, it destroys lives. The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women provides us with the opportunity to reflect on this and to take steps to prevent and put an end to violence.”
When it comes to that, there is still a long way to go, wrote journalist Francine Pelletier, whose name was on the gunman’s list of potential targets, in an opinion piece for CBC News. Besides the 14 murdered women, the victims included 14 other women injured and 15 additional on a hit list.
“Unable to look the tragedy in the eye—to this day we have yet to acknowledge that this was not just a crime against women but against feminism, against women who dare go where only men have gone before—we have been paying lip service in the fight against violence against women,” Pelletier wrote. “The good news? Twenty-five years later, the message that women are disproportionately subject to violent abuse is at last being heard.”