It’s been 25 years since Montreal tragedy

Saturday is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women

This Dec. 6 marks 25 years since 14 young women were senselessly murdered at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. Since then, Canada has marked the date annually as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.

Over the last several weeks, Canadians have been reminded again and again that violence against women and sexual harassment are still persistent problems in this country. Even Parliament Hill and our public broadcaster’s offices are not immune.

These high profile cases have helped shine a light on the complexities of gender-based violence and have sparked important discussions.

But discussions must also lead to action. On any given day in Canada, more than 8,200 women and children are living in emergency shelters and transition houses to escape violent partners. Annually more than 400,000 women and girls report sexual assaults, yet an approximate 90 per cent of assaults go unreported. Nearly 1,200 aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or gone missing over the last 30 years. We cannot let this continue to happen.

As we reflect on the events of Dec. 6, 1989, across Canada we must ask ourselves why our current criminal laws, labour codes, and programs have proven inadequate to eradicate this problem.

Last year the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses did just that, they released a report analyzing current government policies and programs focused on violence against women. The results were not all that surprising; on a whole Canada is lacking coherence and coordination between the federal and provincial/territorial levels.

As with any complex social issue, we might expect our governments to ensure they are addressing the root causes, conducting ongoing research, evaluating existing measures and facilitating coordination between all relevant stakeholders. All of this takes planning, both in the short and the long term.

So why is it that with such a widespread problem like gender-based violence, that affects one in three women, Canada has no comprehensive plan or strategy?

With Canada less than a year away from a fixed federal election date, this is certainly a question we should be asking politicians.

The public discussions we’re having right now are building — perhaps to a tipping point where real societal change will occur — but we simply can’t afford to let the conversation lapse. We need politicians to join the discussion and make changes.

That’s exactly what a new campaign, led by an alliance of more than 100 women’s organizations and allies, hopes to accomplish. The campaign, dubbed Up for Debate, wants to make sure women figure prominently in how we make the decision about the future of our country. It challenges political party leaders to participate in a televised leaders’ debate on women’s issues once the election is called, the first in 30 years, and more broadly urges politicians to commit to make meaningful commitments to make women’s lives better.

Twenty-five years have passed since Canada was shaken by the École Polytechnique tragedy. Is it not time we got serious about ending violence against women?

Julia Jones is president of the Canadian Federation of University Women, Vernon branch.