August 18th, 2018

Day of Remembrance a chance to honour all victims of gender-based violence

By Peggy Revell on December 7, 2017.

Jamie Evans and Barb Mitchell place an orange carnation to honour the memory of the 14 women killed at Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989. A public event was held at Medicine Hat College to recognize the day, marked National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.--NEWS PHOTO EMMA BENNETT

Orange carnations were laid in front of candles at the Medicine Hat College Wednesday, as locals remembered the victims of the Montreal Massacre.

“Twenty-eight years later, we still remember, grieve and work for change,” said Medicine Hat Women’s Shelter Society executive director Natasha Carvalho to the dozens who gathered to remember the 14 women killed on Dec. 6, 1989 at l’Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal.

In what has become known as the Montreal Massacre, the gunman specifically targeted women — shooting 28 people, killing 14, then himself — with authorities later finding his writings that blamed women and feminists for ruining his life.

The stories of these women deserve to be remembered, said Aimee Sarsons, community education and awareness worker with the MHWSS. Sarsons explained that she was only 13 years old, living in a small town in rural Alberta when the massacre occurred and made headlines across the country. She grew to understand the significance of what happened as she grew older.

“The women were really trying to pave the way in engineering and other typically male-dominated fields,” she said, adding that often it’s the name of the accused that is heard —and not the victims — which is why remembering them is important.

The Montreal Massacre was a defining moment for many, said Carvalho, including herself as she was a student in Montreal at the time. The federal government eventually declared Dec. 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, with Wednesday’s ceremony also recognizing the murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada, and all women who are victims of gender-based violence.

Coincidentally on Wednesday, Time magazine announced its 2017 person of the year: “The Silence Breakers,” recognizing multiple people who have stepped forward to speak about experiences of sexual harassment and assault — and in many cases, name powerful men in politics, the media and entertainment industries.

“I think it speaks to victims who are willing to speak out,” said Sarsons about the growth of the #metoo campaign. “It’s really brought it to light.”

While progress has been made since 1989 in addressing gender-based violence, both Carvalho and Sarsons said the day is also about remembering that women still face abuse and violence.

“We’re still working to change that,” said Carvalho. “We mourn, and hope and plan for a future.”

The MHWSS is still seeing an increased number of people seeking assistance from them — annually serving approximately 1,200 clients through its various services. Carvalho attributes the increase to the work being done — such as outreach— that is connecting the MHWSS with more people in the community.

“I think there’s more awareness,” said Carvalho. “I think more people are feeling safer about reaching out for help.”

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