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2009-12-06: Twenty Years After the Montreal Massacre: The PEI Story

Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came crashing down. An age of oppression had come to an end and people were at last free to live their lives. Closer to home and less then two weeks before the wall fell, a Summerside man felt so threatened by his estranged wife’s freedom that he shot her dead.

Freedom is a fragile thing that can be lost to political or personal power held over us. Just weeks after the Summerside murder, a gunman felt so angry and threatened by women that he went into a Montreal engineering school and separated the men from the women. He opened fire, shooting 28 people and then himself. Fourteen young women lost their freedom and lives that December day.

The gunman made his intentions clear – he wanted to kill feminists. He blamed those working for equality for his failures. Feminists pointed out that the murders so specifically directed at women represented the extreme end of daily violence against women. Despite the fact that women are raped, beaten and even murdered every day, media commentary insisted that this murderer was a madman and that this rage against women was an isolated event and not part of a continuum of violence.

The 1989 Montreal Massacre brought people together to mourn and work for change with a new sense of urgency and purpose. In the last 20 years, the efforts of PEI women and men have led to improvements in how we view violence, how we work to prevent violence, and how we provide for the offender and the victim.

Following the 1991 Justice McQuaid Inquiry into the police handling of domestic cases, then Premier Catherine Callbeck formed the Premier’s Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention. A Family Violence Prevention Coordinator position was created. The Family Violence Act was enacted. Premier Binn’s Conservative government provided increased funding for front-line services. Funding was secured for Family Violence Prevention Outreach workers across PEI.

In recent years government departments have provided one-day of training about family violence for newly hired law enforcement officers. Woman abuse protocols have been put in place in relevant departments. And for those leaving abusive situations, government policy gives priority consideration for legal aid and for social housing. Innovative projects have been spearheaded by concerned individuals like Kirstin Lund and Julie Devon Dodd who fundraised for project support. Such work has led to better understanding of the dynamics of violence and what services are needed to deal with family and relationship violence. Their projects include the establishment of woman abuse protocols, a proposal for a domestic violence court, and the creation of Safety Circles for women who are at high risk of being abused.

Municipalities, unions, service groups, and students have organized to do their part to help end the violence. Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee and his council held public consultations and effective Peace Begins at Home public education initiatives that other Island municipalities have since adopted. The student-led work of Students Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.) is another example of community mobilization around the issue of violence prevention. Individuals across the Island have given generously to support organizations working to end violence against women.

Positive initiatives have continued in recent years, such as increased funding to PEI Family Violence Prevention Services and Rape and Sexual Assault Centre. Premier Robert Ghiz recently renewed the Premier’s Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention and appointed Professor Philip Smith as its Chairperson. The Advisory Council wishes the Committee well, and we fervently hope the Committee is provided necessary resources to do its work. The sobering reality is that even though Islanders have worked so hard on violence prevention during the twenty years since the Montreal Massacre, seven PEI women were murdered by men in their lives. Let us pledge to continue to work together, to listen to the voices of the victims and their advocates, and to do what we can to protect everyone’s rights and freedom from violence.

 

Isabelle Christian, Chairperson

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