It was 23 years ago today (Dec. 6) that Marc Lépine shocked the nation with a killing spree so calculated and horrific that the words L’École Polytechnique are today synonymous with the massacre.
Frustrated at his own academic shortcomings and using twisted logic to focus his rage, he dealt with his situation with the tools he felt would be most effective. The target for that rage was women. The tools he used were a rifle and a hunting knife. By the time he was done “fighting feminism,” the entity he believed kept him from achieving his goals, he had killed 14 women and injured another 10 women and four men. It took him 20 minutes. The gunman then killed himself, explaining his motives in a suicide note that specifically outlined who was to blame for his actions: women “feminists” had ruined his life.
Understandably, Lépine’s blatant misogyny and his method of dealing with it sent shockwaves across all levels of society – academic, social, professional and domestic.
It would be convenient to believe that Lépine’s world view was beyond the pale, that surely, by the late 20th century – and now, in the early days of the 21st century – we have moved beyond the gender line. However, statistics on domestic violence show that we have not.
A fact sheet assembled by the Canadian Women’s Foundation reveals that on average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her partner. In 2009, 67 women were murdered by a spouse or boyfriend. It also notes that on any given day in Canada, more than 3,000 women are living in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence.
According to a National Housing Day presentation in Hamilton last week, the city offers 134 shelter beds for women – all of them filled. Some 300 women across the city are turned away each month because they cannot be accommodated. If the numbers seem high, consider also that these data reflect only the women who have found the courage to seek help. There are countless others who are silent, because of their circumstances, isolation or lack of resources.
What can be done? As we gather in our communities this evening to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women with vigils and memorial services, we would do well to challenge the accepted perception of domestic violence and to choose our tools for dealing with it accordingly.
Building shelters and then stretching them beyond their capacity is not the answer. Creating violence prevention programs for men, women and youth is a good start. Hate should be faced with education, and intolerance with advocacy. And violence of any type should result in serious criminal penalties. We need to start giving our sons and daughters the tools to change the future. Now.
Anyone who witnesses domestic violence should call 911. Interval House Hamilton offers support for women in abusive situations through a 24-hour crisis line, at 905-387-8881.