For 21 years, we've been commemorating Dec. 6 as a day of mourning and remembrance for the 14 young women at École Polytechnique brutally slain by an angry male who hated feminists. For 21 years we have read the wonderful poem that Stevie Cameron wrote the next day.
Twenty-one years of candles and roses and speakers and guitar solos and the names of each of the 14 women read slowly with less than perfect French accents.
Yet this morning felt profoundly different. I remember the wave numbing disbelief on hearing of the events that afternoon in 1989. I remember the fervour with which we planned the first memorial service in 1990 at Women's College Hospital. The following year the Parliament of Canada designated Dec. 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, honouring the victims of École Polytechnique. That year the White Ribbon Campaign was founded, with men organizing to fight violence against women. We celebrated years of progress -- legislation that made stalking illegal, gun control and "smart on crime" policies that resulted in truly safer communities. Evidence-based polices worked to lower crime rates by reducing recidivism, dealing differently with crimes committed by those suffering from mental illness or addictions. According to feminist lawyer Pamela Cross, the homicide rate has steadily declined except in one area -- still almost every week one or two women are murdered by an intimate partner or previous partner.
Last night as we were standing in our places voting against the omnibus crime bill, sporting our Leadnow.ca "Safer not Meaner" buttons, it felt like we were letting Canada down. The results of the last election have meant that even though 60 per cent of Canadians voted for progressive policies, the majority Conservative government is actively dismantling the progress we had made. We thought especially of those families and friends of the young women we lost at École Polytechnique and Dawson College. The victims of terrorism too. Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler had tabled amendments on their behalf, which the government members voted against in committee, and then in a spectacle of parliamentary ignorance, tried to table them as Conservative amendments in the House. It was a display of rabid partisanship instead of allowing parliamentarians to do their work creating better laws and better public policy. Ideology over evidence.
The 21st commemoration ceremony today will not signify the "coming of age" of the violence against women movement. It sadly signals the day on which, in spite of real progress, we feel we all must begin the fight again.