Thirty years after the massacre of 14 female engineering students in Montreal, violence against women not only continues but grows.
This year’s vigil at Okanagan College in Salmon Arm to remember the Montreal massacre, as well as murdered and missing women in B.C. and across Canada, contained many profound moments of sadness, but also a demand for action.
Among the speakers was Melissa Munn, a professor at Okanagan College, who had celebrated her 21st birthday just two days before the shooting at the École Polytechnique.
Like the 14 young women who were murdered for being feminists, Munn was also a college student in Montreal.
On Dec. 6, 1989 she was in her apartment just a short distance from the massacre.
She was left in shock, never before confronting the systemic violence against women. It made her afraid to be a feminist.
Ten years later she was in Terrace. There, on Dec. 6, she stood with the relatives of two young women killed on the Highway of Tears.
She witnessed the pain of family and friends of all those missing. Sadness engulfed her.
On the 20th anniversary of the massacre she couldn’t force herself to attend a vigil. After spending 15 years as a frontline worker in transition houses and other similar agencies, she was overwhelmed with despair.
Now, after 30 years: “I am simply enraged. I’m furious,” Munn told her rapt audience.
“Every other day a woman in this country is murdered. Every week a woman is murdered by her male partner…, killed by the man she trusted.”
She said the violence can’t go on.
“What do we do so we’re not just the same people here 10 years from now?” she asked.
A young man had told her a little earlier that he was going to raise his kids differently.
That’s what we do, she concluded.
“We do, we just have to do, and that doing is different for all of us.”
For Munn, she is going to lobby every MP in the country to put an end to assault rifles in Canada.
“My question to you all tonight is what are you going to do? We simply can’t just come to these events. We have to do. We have to take action. That is the question. What will you do?”
Joel Hiemstra, with the Okanagan College Students’ Union, read excerpts from a Montreal Gazette article that featured Nathalie Provost.
She was in her classroom at École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989 when a man with a semi-automatic weapon came in and ordered the men to leave.
Read more: Search resumes in Shuswap for missing women
“You’re women, you’re going to be engineers, you’re all a bunch of feminists, I hate feminists,” he said.
Provost spoke up, trying to intervene. She said they weren’t feminists, they were just women studying engineering.
His response was to begin shooting. Six of the nine women in the room died, three survived.
Although forever affected, Provost has been a strong supporter of young women and a relentless advocate for gun control. She still has hope.
Sgt. Scott Lachapelle of Salmon Arm RCMP spoke in detail about how the training of RCMP officers dealing with incidents of domestic violence has changed and improved over the 30 years he has been working as a police officer – and he also acknowledged there is still work to be done.
The vigil at the college began with a documentary on the Montreal Massacre as well as one on the Highway of Tears.
MC Jenny Carter said those present were there as allies and to stand witness.
“We know that some grief is too heavy to carry alone. We come together to support family and friends of missing women. May you feel our encouragement and support.”
Edna Felix, a councillor with the Splatsin band, and her daughter Laureen drummed and sang. Both spoke of abuse they had witnessed.
Laureen encouraged those present not to allow themselves to be silenced, not to keep abuse a secret. Edna said abuse can lead to suicide and reiterated the importance of speaking out.
Before those present made their way outside with candles and roses to stand by the pond at the college, Laureen drummed a hauntingly beautiful tribute.
Although she usually sings the Warrior song to give strength to women, this time she chose the Eagle song.
“It’s the highest honour you can sing to anybody. I feel our women need to get honoured, even the ones who are out there we don’t know about, the ones who are missing, the ones that have been murdered, the ones – our grandmothers, in the ground, who didn’t have the option to speak out… I feel we need to honour everybody.”