Last Saturday, vigils and many other ceremonies appropriate to particular groups and communities marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, the pivotal event that remains Canada’s largest mass murder.
The event was and is, of course, so much more than “Canada’s largest mass murder” because all of the 14 victims gunned down in cold blood at their school, Ecolé Polytechnique de Montreal, were female engineering students. Men in the vicinity, with the exception of murderer Marc Lépine (who killed himself as the finale to the rampage), were separated from the women students and mostly spared by the gunman.
As guest speaker Julie Lalonde pointed out at one of Manitoulin’s vigil events, “this was our 9/11 and, after it happened, things have never been the same again.”
A quarter century ago, The Expositor Office’s Christmas staff get-together was only a few days following the Montreal Massacre and the issue was on everyone’s mind. One person at the gathering earnestly asked whether others felt that Marc Lépine’s unprovoked murder of 14 university students (who had been successful in accomplishing something that he had failed to do: gain entry to the university’s engineering faculty) was merely between one deranged man and 14 young women who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or whether this terrible action was giving us a peek at a more universal evil.
The discussion went on for a time with most people clearly hoping that the “one man, 14 unfortunate women” was the correct assumption and that Mr. Lépine’s antisocial behaviour could be relegated to the “one-off” bin, presumably because of the comfort this view of such a terrible event afforded.
Others in that small gathering weren’t so sure and from their own experiences and observations felt that what Marc Lépine had done was an exteme example of a major societal ill.
It was a holiday gathering and so that dark topic did not dominate the whole party but it did cast a pall over the evening and 25 years later, considering recent events in our country and certainly abroad, we have to come down heavily on the side that considered Marc Lépine’s action, while horrible in and of itself, was nevertheless something of a miner’s canary, at least in Canada, on the issue of the violence that women face at the hands of men.
Former CBC star Jian Ghomeshi’s apparent routine abuse and harassment of girlfriends, female acquaintances and co-workers is a high-profile example of the persecution that girls can grow up expecting may happen to them, to one degree or another.
Sadly, this is very gender specific and boys do not grow up to become men with negative expectations even remotely similar to the ones girls learn may be their lot in life, together with the situations and circumstances of which they should be wary.
There is nothing comparable for men to the grisly murders of an as yet undetermined number of women committed by Vancouver-area pig farmer Robert Pickton. He was convicted absolutely of the murder of six women in 2007 and is in prison but is a suspect in the murder of 26 more women.
There is nothing comparable for men from any particular social or ethnic group to the more than 1,300 girls and women of First Nations origins who have either been murdered or have simply disappeared in this country during almost the same period of time since Marc Lépine committed his mayhem in Montreal.
The so-called honour killings that claimed the lives of the three women whose bodies were discovered in a car in the Rideau Canal near Kingston in 2009 represent many more such murders. Men are not the victims of honour killings.
These are high profile examples we’ve all heard about in Canada.
But what about the 200 girls in Nigeria, abducted by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram because they dared to go to school and to get an education? If this sounds comparable to Marc Lépine’s ostensible motivation, it is, but the fanatically conservative Islamist faction that decided school is inappropriate for females has not executed them but, they tell us, has required this group of young women to convert to their Islamist cult and, further, has married them off to be a second or third (possibly even a first!) wife to male members of the cult. These are things that are not inflicted on boys and men.
Rape is unimaginably commonplace in India, a nation that is proud of its status as the world’s largest democracy and in spite of that complicated and populous country’s public promises to the world that it will get the issue in hand, in fact rapes are steadily increasing there by a factor of over seven percent annually.
At last Saturday’s vigil, candles were lit, as is the custom, for each murdered Manitoulin woman.
As happens year after year in this moving ceremony, the list takes a long while to read out while vigil attendees light candles in each individual woman’s memory. It takes a long time for this part of the vigil ceremony simply because there are a lot of women who have been murdered on Manitoulin, usually by their intimate partners, and this list is by no means exhaustive; it is only a record of local women who have been murdered on Manitoulin Island during the past 35 years.
These are facts. They are not pleasant and they represent only a tiny fraction of the world’s women-hating and some of its extreme consequences.
Once again, there is nothing even remotely comparable for boys and men. That is to say, this misogynistic and misanthropic behaviour is not reciprocated by women against men.
While this is not, in the course of history, by any means a unique phenomenon, what is disturbing and frightening is that in spite of all of the information about motivations and inappropriate behaviours now available to us, abuse directed by males to females continues, seemingly unabated.
This has been a constant theme in this space but the fact remains that the best defense against boys growing up to be abusive men is for their families, as a priority, to tell them and to demonstrate to them that a very important aspect of being male is to have an abiding respect for girls and women that would preclude any suggestion of abuse.
There is no question that this can be a tall order, especially with the images of violence—often directed against females—that is delivered into our homes through the Internet and by video games.
This means, in turn, that as well as schooling boys appropriately about relations with the other half of the population, parents, grandparents and other caregivers who have the opportunity to supervise and influence young boys’ development must give every attention to screening external influences.
Raising children has always been an enormous responsibility.
Raising boys properly in these times is probably one of the most difficult tasks the modern social order has thrust upon us but in light of what we are taught by these annual memorials of the December 6, 1989 Montreal Massacre and of course the other murdered and abused women closer to home, the proper raising of boys in this particular context is of the utmost importance to the future of our country and whether or not it will continue to be one of the best nations in the world in which to live.
The behaviour of other cultures in other countries is, of course, an entirely different issue but as citizens of Canada, we must continue to do whatever we can to oppose governments and political and religious groups that take it as a matter of faith that they have the right to treat women as objects and chattels.