Dec. 6 marks 33 years since the massacre of 14 female engineering students at Montreal’s École Polytechnique. I was 15 years old on that tragic day in 1989. Suddenly, the feminist movement felt real and urgent.
I read Steinem, Friedan, hooks and Rich, and felt parts of my brain shift and reorient themselves. Presumed gender roles were unmasked as inequality. Violence against women was bigger than a few bad apples. Joining other women at Take Back the Night marches became an annual tradition. Identifying as a feminist went from feeling risky to being necessary and empowering.
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The fight against gender-based violence is no less urgent now. I was reminded of this in August when the anti-feminist blogger Jean-Claude Rochefort was finally convicted. Rochefort, a Montreal resident, posted dozens of hateful and violent messages online in the months leading up to the massacre’s 30th anniversary in 2019. Many posts venerated the gunman; most are too disturbing to repeat.
Nearly three years after police laid charges, Rochefort was found guilty of inciting hatred toward women. Testifying at his own trial, he claimed his posts were satire and exaggerations. But in his ruling, Superior Court Justice Pierre Labrie said he found Rochefort’s explanations “easy, simplistic and not credible” and that “hatred of women was the common denominator” in what he posted.
While justice was served in this case, many recent news events reveal that all is not equal for women. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending almost 50 years of a woman’s right to an abortion. Bell Media ousted longtime CTV news anchor Lisa LaFlamme, raising serious questions about whether sexism and ageism led to the company’s “business decision.” Lisa Banfield testified about the violence and control she experienced from her partner who, in 2020, murdered 22 Nova Scotians. Sexual abuse allegations surfaced against a Roman Catholic Cardinal from Quebec, an Anabaptist megachurch preacher in Ontario and the staff at a private Christian school in Saskatchewan. Mahsa Amini died suddenly in Iran after being detained by the country’s morality police, sparking global protest.
This Dec. 6, I will quietly give thanks to those who call out misogyny and gender-based hate. I will honour the courage of those who speak out against sexual abuse and remember the women whose lives have been lost to violence. The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women gives all Canadians an opportunity to pause and reflect. The work — and the fight — for gender equality must continue every day of the year.
Jocelyn Bell is the editor-publisher of Broadview.
This editorial first appeared in Broadview’s December 2022 issue with the title “An urgent fight.”
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