We are nearing the end of this parliamentary session as the House will rise December 11 until late January 2021.
This week, we have to get through the measures required by the Fall Economic Statement (confidence votes tomorrow), as well as Bill C-7 on Medical Assistance in Dying, slowed down by Conservative opposition. As well, the government hopes to move a number of bills to committee – on broadcasting, privacy, and climate accountability, Bill C-12. Watch here my 10 minutes in taking apart the current weak effort:
Today, Sunday December 6th, is a day shrouded in darkness as the anniversary of the murder of fourteen women engineering students at Montreal’s École Polytechnique.
Parliament stopped normal business this last Thursday to honour the memory of the murdered women and mark December 6, by legislation a day of mourning, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. The prime minister spoke, as well as one MP per party. I am so proud of my colleague Jenica Atwin from Fredericton. Jenica Atwin’s statement on the 31st anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre – YouTube Her speech made the arc between 1989 and the on-going violence against women, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and specifically, Chantal Moore, killed by Edmundston, N.B. police in June.
The story of December 6, 1989 is a familiar one; chilling even after the frequent re-telling. A man filled with hatred against women, armed to the teeth, walked into the school, took over a classroom and separated the young men from the women. The men were sent to safety. The killer opened fire on the women. When he had left all the women for dead in that classroom (three survived playing dead), he continued through the school – killing women in hallways and the cafeteria, until he killed himself. Fourteen women were killed and another ten women and four men injured.
These women are remembered. Their names read out year after year. Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michele Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.
One male student Sarto Blais was also a victim. He killed himself eight months after the massacre. His suicide note saying he was guilt-ridden that he had not stopped the killer. Unbearably, both his parents committed suicide following his death. This story I only learned in writing this newsletter. I so often wondered about the guilt for those who were spared.
The nature of the crime, that it was clearly an act of a man who specifically hated feminists, took some years to acknowledge. Early news reports used words like “madman” and mentally unstable. Increasingly it is understood as an act brought on by a hatred of women, just as the April 2018 attack in Toronto by the young man who used a van as a murder weapon. The killer there actually identified himself as part of a movement called “incel” – hating women who will not have sex with them making men “involuntarily celibate.”
The aftermath of December 6th led to better gun control legislation in Canada. It raised awareness of violence against women, but clearly we have much more to do.
Tomorrow will be another day focused on women in Parliament, but for a different and happier anniversary. On Monday, we will observe the 50th anniversary of the release of the report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. And we will move through the ranks for speeches from the prime minister through to me, for the Greens.
The commission operated between 1968 and 1970, established by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson with its report delivered to the Pierre Trudeau government. To prepare for my speech, I read the report – amazing how easy it is to find archived records. But other things I thought would be easy to find, turned out to need a bit of digging.
There was only one women in parliament in 1967 when the commission was launched, and only one when it was tabled. That one woman in 1967 was a strong feminist whom I remember well – although we never met. Judy LaMarsh was not only the only woman in parliament, she was in Pearson’s cabinet. And it is pretty clear the commission would never have happened if not for her activism. She was no fan of Trudeau’s so had left parliament when Pearson resigned. By the time the report was tabled, there was again only one woman MP. Grace MacInnis, MP for Vancouver Kingsway was CCF. So there were no Liberal women MPs and Pierre Trudeau’s Cabinet was 100% men.
Would the recommendations of the Commission have been acted on with more women in Parliament? The Commission recommended that the Criminal Code provisions against abortion be removed. That had happened partially in 1969, so long as a committee of doctors was prepared to confirm that the continuation of a pregnancy threatened a women’s life or health. It was not until 1988, nearly twenty years later, and the Supreme Court decision in the Morgentaler case that the 1969 Criminal Code provisions were struck down as unconstitutional.
The Commission asserted that Canada needed a Guaranteed Annual Income, and specifically recommended that as a first step single parents raising children should have financial support. The Commission did examine the status of indigenous women, noting the poverty rates were far higher, but the report focuses far more on the ingrained stereotypes applying to “housewives.” Intersectionali
The government of the day did make changes, setting up the government department on the status of women, but the big changes are still to be achieved. Ending poverty, ending misogyny, ending violence against women.
So much to do… and we fight over vaccines and testing. Stay safe. Stay well.
Until next week, love and peace,
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