Much still to do on massacre’s 25th anniversary, say Cowichan leaders

Since 1989, when 14 women were massacred at École Polytechnique in Quebec, there has been progress made to stop gender violence in Canada, but there’s a lot more that still needs to be done, speakers agreed at a Friday vigil to remember that dark day 25 years ago.

"In our country we have violence that is directed against women and girls simply because of their gender," said Jane Sterk, the first speaker at the ceremony held at the Vancouver Island University campus in Duncan.

Dec. 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in memory of the massacre. Speakers recalled that day in 1989 when a man walked into an engineering class at the post-secondary institution armed with a semi-automatic rifle. After separating the men from the women, he stated that he hated feminists and starting shooting the women in the class. He killed 14 of them, and injured nine others and four men. He then killed himself.

"I remember watching the news of École Polytechnique," said Kendra Thomas of Cowichan Women Against Violence Society.

CWAV hosted the event.

"I remember being stunned and numb," she said.

She also recalls that she watched a TV movie that year about the Tracey Thurmon story. Thurmon, a U.S. woman, was stabbed 13 times, kicked in the head and had her neck broken by her then-husband – 10 minutes after she called police. She successfully sued the town for $2.3 million and there is now a law named after her.

Thomas said she’d like to think we’ve come a long way since then, but provincial violence statistics indicate we still have a long way to go.

"Sometimes it is still scary to be a woman," she said. "We need to be impacted just enough," by such terrible violence to goad us into action.

"Every day many women endure countless acts of violence against them because they are women," said Yana Stratemeyer-Trinczek speaking for Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder who is in Ottawa.

She said it’s important to promote action, speak out against violence against women and recognize that there is still work to be done. Stratemeyer-Trinczek said events like the annual vigil are important to "give women a voice."

Cowichan Tribes member Debbie Williams spoke about her work on a provincial committee that aims to address gender violence and domestic violence to and among First Nations.

"This issue is close to my heart," she said. Aboriginal women are disproportionately affected by violence, she said.

"We definitely need men to be part of the solution," Williams said, inviting the men present to become part of the Moose Hide Campaign, which calls upon them to stand up against violence against women.

She also spoke against the federal Conservative government’s decision not to hold a national inquiry into the huge numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women, saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s position that these are individual acts is missing the forest for the trees.

"What we really have is a societal problem and a social problem," Williams said. The event concluded with a couple moments of silence and the laying of 14 red roses, one for each of the women killed in the massacre in 1989, and one white rose, in recognition of all of the other victims of gender violence.

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