December 6th – Remembering the Montreal Massacre

December 6, 2009

My fingers were bitten by the cold air as they clasped the candle. My breath blew out in white clouds that dissipated quickly in the night. Snow was falling softly, quietly, passively  among the gathered crowd. It was almost too cold for the tears wiped quickly from our eyes. Here, in Minto Park, in Ottawa, we gathered to remember.

20 years ago, on December 6th, fourteen women were murdered at L’École Polytechnique in Montréal. They were murdered by a man because they were women. Because they were women who dared to pursue a university degree in engineering, a field that continues to be traditionally dominated by men. The man in question, Marc Lepine,  blamed his own failures on feminism. On women’s “intrusion” into men’s privileged world. We remember these women and the tragedy that happened 20yrs ago. And we come together to address the continued perpetuation of these attitudes today.

Other names were mentioned, but it’s their stories that hit home. Distinct, despite their similarities. A woman, murdered in her driveway, by her estranged husband. A 5yr old girl, murdered, by a 20yr old man. The most horrific, three young girls and a woman, found in a submerged car. Their father, mother, and brother charged for their deaths. The woman had been their father’s first wife. Their lives were too inconvenient too be spared. We also remembered the most vulnerable in our communities. The names of First Nation women who are murdered or disappeared are added weekly to a list held by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. And so rarely do their stories appear in our media. It has been called Canada’s greatest human rights crisis.

These women died because our society perpetuates violence against women as acceptable, and even humourous. They were murdered by men who bought into the idea of defensive masculinity. That it is somehow okay to treat women as less than human, as unworthy of respect. That they don’t deserve it. That they don’t deserve life. These are not isolated incidents. These attitudes exist on a broad scale and are systemically enabled through society’s tolerance of patriarchal norms.

But, there is hope. I stood, shoulder to shoulder with my male friends as well, the candles we held lighting up their frostbitten cheeks too. They stand with us, and for us, in recognition that these are not isolated incidents, and that they are part of the solution. I am so proud of all of them, those who came to the vigils held on campus, at the University of Ottawa, and at Minto Park, for the entire city.

One of the speakers, shared his story about growing up watching his father repeatedly abuse his mother and the other women in his life. I was especially touched by his description of his identity: feminist masculinity. I like this description for our male allies. It gives them a place within the movement for change. Violence against women is an issue so huge, that we need to work together if we’re going to construct a better future. This is why we are feminists. Because this matters.

We can all be part of the solution to end violence against women. Remember December 6th, but remember the women who live this every day as well. And actively work with us for a future where they will never have to.

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
The Star: Lessons of the Montreal Massacre
(see the bottom of the wikipedia article for more links)



On the age of consent

September 30, 2009

Let’s start with a brief history of the age of consent law in Canada.  Since 1892 the age at which a person was considered capable of consenting to sexual activity has been set at 14. In the spring of 2008, this was raised to 16, with the exemption that “sex between peers under 16 is okay, as long as neither is in a position of authority and they are 12 or older. Likewise, under a “close-in-age” provision, if a person under 16 (and 12 or older) has sex with someone less than five years older, they can be considered to have consented unless the older person is in a position of authority.” (emphasis mine) (source)

The law was changed in response to growing concern over international tourists visiting Canada to take advantage of the low age of consent. In short, Canada was becoming a child sex tourism destination. (source) In particular, take a read about Dale Eric Beckham, a 31-year old American who met a 14-year old Canadian boy on the internet, and flew to Canada to have sex with him. The boy’s parents alerted the police, who arrested Beckham. The boy testified that it was consensual, and so Beckham was released.

Now let’s get topical. Roman Polanski raped a 13 year old girl. She was underage, and didn’t consent. There are some people who seem to think that this shouldn’t be a criminal offense, or that he should be pardoned, etc. If those people are here, may I direct you to Kate Harding’s response at Salon.

I was talking with some roommates yesterday about Canada’s age of consent laws. It started when I brought up a family I know with a 16 year old daughter who moved in with a 25 year old boyfriend. I brought it up as an example of why I think the age of consent should be 18 (with near-age exemptions in place). The roommate disagreed. He thought there shouldn’t be an age of consent at all, because as a libertarian, he is against self-harm laws.

I argued that children don’t have the capacity to make certain decisions.

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An Amusing Turn-Around on Sexual Assault Prevention Tips

September 23, 2009

About a year ago, when I was still a law student at the University of Iowa, I received an infuriating e-mail in my inbox from the university’s Department of Public Safety.  The department sends out regular “Crime Prevention News” e-mails, all of which you can see on their website here.  I get the feeling someone else must have complained, since the most recent update on safety in downtown Iowa City specifically says that both males and females should follow their tips, but it’s still gendered, referring to male-on-male violence (which in my opinion makes it sound like men are the only one who need to be concerned about non-sexual violence downtown).

The e-mail that I received while I was in attendance is the April 2008 newsletter, focusing on “Personal and Residence Safety.”  Though the newsletter isn’t as bad as it could be at targeting women, the header makes it clear who the target audience is.  “Over the past two years there have been several assaults on women in the Iowa City area. Please remember the following safety tips from the University of Iowa Police.”

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