NDP MP Megan Ellis’s statement at the December 6th Not-So-Silent Vigil in Halifax [EDITOR’S NOTE: Megan Leslie, not Megan Ellis – with apologies. I also apologize for the formatting. It got messed up when I changed templates and I can’t seem to fix it.]
Hello. Thank you for asking me to be here today.
I have been attending December 6th events my entire adult life. It never feels any less somber. Less affecting. Less urgent. Nineteen years later, and where are we?
I was 16 when the Montreal Massacre happened. The victims seemed like adults, I remember thinking that. Women in their early 20s, studying engineering. It was all pretty far away from my teenage reality a small mining town. But when I look at this list now, and read these 14 names and ages, it strikes me. They were so young. They seemed like adults, and yet, I’m several years older now than the oldest victim was then.
I’ve noticed over the years that we are very careful with ourselves when we discuss this shooting. We do not to say the name of the killer, just as I am not going to today. We also only talk about the fatalities. Not of the hit-list the shooter had prepared, containing the names of several prominent feminists, many of whom are our friends. We hold the events at arm’s length, and we squint. In looking for answers, we ask ourselves: “why?”. Because we can take comfort in that answer to “why?” It contains phrases that allow us some distance: “Lone gunman.” “Isolated incident.” “Psychotic break.”
Oh, we let ourselves think. That’s why. All of those reasons are separate from me. Unique. I am not culpable. I am not in danger.
But the question we don’t let ourselves ask is what. What is it about our culture that made the shooter blame “feminists” for all his troubles? What is it going to take to change things? What can *I* do?
The answer to these questions is unsettling, because it makes us face uncomfortable facts: We live in a culture of casual misogyny. We live in a culture that pays attention to women most often when it wants to berate us, blame us, or compare us to each other. And we don’t do enough to fight it. Like when hundreds of Aboriginal women go missing. When the word “equality” is taken out of the Status of Women mandate. Like when on my first day in Ottawa as a new MP, another MP said something so sexist and so degrading to me that my first thought was “what am I wearing? Did I ask for this?” When victims of violence are referred to in the media as “hookers” and “junkies” rather than “women” or even “people”.
As a woman, we’re subject to these warning shots all the time. Be pretty. Be good. Be careful. When we talk about December 6th, we place it as an extreme end of a spectrum that begins with domestic violence. I am acutely aware that domestic violence touches many more lives than we are likely to ever know . It is a pandemic problem that provincial and federal governments have done little to address.
But I do not feel that the events of December 6th were an exaggerated version of domestic violence. I believe they were an extreme form of the gender terrorism that happens so much all around us that we hardly even recognize it for what it is anymore. In the wake of these shootings, big plans were made. We promised ourselves an end to violence against women. And here we are today, for the nineteenth time, saying “Never again”, and trying to believe it.
We need to do better than this. We need to call out sexist behavior, even if it causes social friction to do so. We need to support women who are working to create and reflect a culture of non-violence and possibility. We need to tell the media that they won’t talk us into hating ourselves and each other. We need to remind our government that women count. We need to look after each other, and ourselves.
The handbill for this event asks us to make a commitment to act against violence against women. I commit to naming sexism and gender terrorism. And I commit to going easy on myself when I don’t have the strength to stand up against it. And I commit to seeking support from others to make sure I have the strength to name it the next time.
On December 6th, 1989, fourteen women were shot because someone thought that they’d stepped out of line. On that day, all of their power and potential was taken from them. On this day, and on all days, we owe it to them to not waste ours.
From an e-mail sent by Martin Dufresne to the Par-L list.