Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why we need to remember and act on December 6th

Update: I wrote this one year ago today. In the year since I posted this more women than we ever want to believe have been murdered, abused, exploited, and gone missing. Today may be a day for remembering the 14 lives lost 23 years ago but it's also a reminder that for the next 365 days violence against women, against the vulnerable and oppressed, will continue. (Justice for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women)


Today is the 22nd 'anniversary' of the Montreal Massacre, when a young man walked into an educational institution and murdered as many women as he could. Shooting 28 and killing 14, he started his rampage by separating the men and the women because he was "fighting feminism".

In his attempts to attack women and feminism and in a blatant act that would forever define what 'violence against women' could really mean, he took the following lives:

  • 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

One of the outcomes of his crime, which he committed with hunting knife and a semi-automatic rifle casually purchased, was a tightening of gun control laws in Canada. With several family members of the murdered women heavily involved, Bill C-68(The Firearms Act) was passed in 1995. The new Bill required the training of gun owners, screening firearm applicants, new rules which would restrict certain types of guns and ammunition, regulations around gun storage, and the requirement to register all firearms.

It seems like a small thing, to me, to have to register or safely store your guns. I bought bear spray for a camping trip up North once and I had to register to own it. If anyone were to ever check how many weapons or dangerous items I have registered to my name there would be two: that bear spray and some allergy medication I bought in the States. I think that's normal. If I bought a gun I'd be more than happy to register it, because it means that if I have to register my weapon so does that creepy guy who lives in my building who stands in the hallway at 4am silently. It means that the abusive partner of my co-worker will also have to register his gun. The gun registry has been one of the most controversial items on the Canadian political landscape since its inception and it seems that only a person who is completely secure in their safety could be opposed to it, could fight against it, which means being completely oblivious to the safety and concerns of others. If mere inconvenience, or "concerns about privacy", really seem like good enough reasons to oppose a Bill that was prompted by the brutal murder of 14 women then women's safety, children's safety, and public safety are less important to some people than their own comfort. To be blunt, it is selfish to deny a Bill that can save even one life.

But despite controversy and despite opposition the Gun Registry and the Firearms act remained and, despite arguments around the methodological soundness of data collection, has made a difference in the amount of gun related crime and death in Canada.

This year Canadians voted in a Conservative Majority and one of the first items on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agenda was to initiate the repeal of Bill C-68, to not only "scrap" the registry and the requirement to register long-guns, but also to compel the destruction of ALL records pertaining to any information under the Firearms Act, which includes information about registered firearms, past and present.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews who sponsored the bill said that it was a proud moment for the Conservatives, stating that "waste is finally coming to an end in Ottawa." All debate and controversy aside, the long gun registry should be last on the list of "waste" in Ottawa. Abusing public services, spending public money on personal trifles, there is so must waste in Ottawa that's just impossible to focus on one thing. Politicians pay for their expensive dinners with our tax dollars. They pay for their hand jobs at those expensive restaurants with our tax dollars! So why is it "waste" to spend our own money on something that some of us actually want? What this really means is that the Conservatives have finally won their long battle against having to spend any money on anything that benefits women or protects them. It's too expensive to have to register your guns? I have to pay for a new driver's license every few years, and a passport, and a health card. It's too expensive to maintain a database of registered weapons? Well, what about the RCMP surveillance of non-criminals? What about the collection of medical data, or of DNA samples of sex offenders? Registering children for school, collecting data on their grades? Voting? We maintain and expand databases all of the time so what is it exactly about this particular database that irks them so much?
Many opponents argue the the registry treats responsible citizens like criminals. But what doesn't? I have to register my car. When you get pulled over and provide your registration, the police are in their car doing a criminal check on you--sometimes for no apparent reason. And how about airport security? While study after study has suggested that airport security screening is doing a bad job at preventing terrorist acts, we still allow each ridiculous technological advance in security to be shoved down our throats. So do the people who believe that the long gun registry should be halted and the information destroyed also believe that No-Fly Lists should also be destroyed? That airport screening should be abolished? Because it's exactly the same sentiment. I don't appreciate having to remove my shoes and have my hair patted every time I fly somewhere but I suffer it because I have places to go, so I sacrifice a bit of my privacy and allow myself to be treated like a criminal.
Critics bring up the fact that "criminals" and gang members don't register their weapons, so the registry is useless. Sure, this is true. But the fact remains that women are also murdered by the "law abiding", they're murdered or abused by their family members and people they know. You may be surprised at how many 'respectable' and upstanding men are perpetrators of domestic violence, but it is a simple truth that abuse escalates and women are killed by their partners' registered guns.
That the Conservative government is demanding the destruction of all information pertaining to the registry is absurd. Really? You won't even let the police keep the information? Or keep it for the purposes of government research? Anybody who is worth anything knows that there is no such thing as useless information and that destroying information that has cost money and time is senseless and childish. It's a slap in the face to anyone whose ever been the victim of violence, or been robbed at gun point, or had a family member killed. There is always something productive to be made from any information, and it highlights the short sightedness and truly bratty nature of the Conservative Party that they would rather just toss that information in a big fire and dance around it, crowing about their "victory".
Today the annual memorial in Ottawa was held for the 14 women who were murdered 22 years ago. No Conservative MPs were present, because none of them were invited. Prime Minister Harper released a statement about the deaths saying that "while the senseless events of that day will never fully be understood, we must continue to do our utmost to ensure such a tragedy never occurs again and to protect society's most vulnerable...our Government is making significant investments to end violence against women and girls in communities across the country and will continue to advocate for the fair and unbiased treatment of all citizens."
Prime Minister Harper has a daughter and he can make such a hypocritical, disingenuous statement that demeans the women who were murdered and all women who have faced violence before or since. As a father, a husband, and as the person Canadians have entrusted with their safety Stephen Harper should be ashamed of his actions and the callousness of his statement. He's spitting on the graves of our buried sisters and mothers, and he's scoffing at the real pain violence against women has caused in all of our lives -- including the lives of men.
Violence against women isn't just something someone made up and 22 years ago today these 14 lives were ended simply because they were women.

It would be nice if politicians could get over their ideological pettiness and just honour their commitments to those lost lives and lives that continue to be threatened and destroyed to this day.

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