Guelph marks 20th anniversay of Montreal Massacre

Monday, December 7, 2009

  • Members of the Guelph community gather for a candlelight vigil outside City Hall as part of the National Day of Remembrance and

    Members of the Guelph community gather for a candlelight vigil outside City Hall as part of the National Day of Remembrance and

Written by Greg Beneteau

Guelphites heard emotional and impassioned pleas for an end to violence against women on the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

More than 150 people gathered for a standing-room only ceremony inside city hall, where speakers and performers memorialized women and children killed by their male partners.

The event was organized by Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis and the Guelph Youth Council, and included artistic contributions from local area schools and support from the CSA Human Rights Office.

For Zhaled Afshar, a public educator with Women in Crisis, said the landmark anniversary of Canada's worse mass-shooting was bittersweet.

“On the one hand, people have become more willing to talk about violence against women over time,” Ashfar said. “On the other hand, there are a lot of people in their twenties who don’t know what the Montreal Massacre was or why it was important.”

Across Canada, December 6 is recognized as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It marks the anniversary in 1989 of the murders of 14 female engineering students at Montreal's École Polytechnique.

The women were shot by lone gunmen Marc Lépine, who specifically targeted women during his rampage. He later turned the gun on himself.

As part of the ceremony, the Universary of Guelph French Club read the names of each victim out loud while 14 roses were placed on stage. An additional 17 candles were added to the display, symbolizing each of the 17 women killed in Ontario this year by their current or former partners. Participants later gathered outside for a candlelighy vigil.

The event also remembered survivors of abuse like Stefanie Elsey, who recounted her experiences living through a three-an-a-half year abusive relationship that started when she was just 16 years old.

The older man encouraged her to quit school and leave home, "telling me that I had the right to do whatever I wanted," she recalled.

"It turned out what that really meant was I had to do he anything he wanted."

The man eventually became abusive and threatened to kill he if she left. He took away her birth control pills, then tried to force her to have an abortion after she became pregnant.

After she fled home to her family, Elsey's abuser began to harass her at home. Once he called her and asked her to reconsider aborting her baby.

"I said no. He said to me 'I hope you know I will kill that kid the first chance I get,' and hung up," she said.

After giving birth to a baby girl, Elsey went to the police with her story. He was arrested and tried, but the case was thrown out due to lack of evidence.

In family court, Elsey made a deal agreeing to give up spousal support to ensure her ex-partner wouldn't have visitation rights.

"Going through the legal system was so hard," she said. "If it wasn't for trying to protect my daughterfrom her father I never would have done it."

After completing high school with help from local educational program Give Yourself Credit, Elsey was accepted into the Early Childhood Education Program at Connestoga College last fall.

Now 21, Elsey urged those living in abusive relationships to seek help sooner rather than later.

"Things will never get better if you stay, and you might even end of dead. People do not change," she said.

Afshar said there was evidence that message was finally starting to sink in, saying calls to the non-profit agency’s help line doubled compared to last year and would likely surpass 10,000 by the end of December.

She speculated that a number of factors, including stresses caused by the poor economy and "a greater awareness of support services available" were leading more women to seek help.

Other trends might take longer to change, as U of G Engineering students Kimberley Jusek and Madavine Tom know.

The two undergrads, both recognized for their exemplary work in engineering and design, spoke about efforts to attract women into a field that has traditionally been dominated by males.

Twenty years after the Montreal Massacre, only one in five engineering students enrolled in Canadian universities is a female, who also account for only one in ten professional engineers in the country.

Saying she was "not intimdated" by the imbalance, Jusek insisted that solving society's problems requires equal input from both genders.

"After all, half of all the best brains in the world are from women,” she said.

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