Thirty Years In: Where Do Women Stand Three Decades After the Montreal Massacre?

  • December 02, 2019
  • Bailey Duller, Member-at-Large

Say their names… Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière,Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier,Michèle Richard,Annie St-Arneault,Annie Turcotteand Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

Another year, another tragic milestone in the legacy of the Montreal Massacre. Thirty years ago on December 6, 1989, 14 women were gunned down as they pursued a professional degree in a male-dominated profession, not unlike the one that we are part of. The killer’s stated aim was to retaliate against “feminists,” but it should truly be understood as a lethal act of misogyny; the dangerous combination of the male privilege and fragility that are triggered when men are asked to share their power and the toxic masculinity that wrongly instructs men that violence is the solution. 

As a lawyer with a practice focused on survivors of violence, I want to believe that women are safer today than three decades ago when this tragedy occurred. Sadly, I am unconvinced of that fact and the extent to which the legal options and remedies that have evolved in that time can genuinely be described as ‘protections.’ In 2018, the Greater Toronto Area saw more than twice as many domestic homicides as in 2017. In the same year, the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability reported that, on average, one woman or girl in this country is killed every 2.5 days -- a trend that has stayed consistent for 40 years and an epidemic that disproportionately affects Indigenous women and girls. 

Instead, I understand the laws which seek to address male violence as what they are: necessary but imperfect tools. Over many years, we have seen improved access to restraining orders, the establishment of domestic violence leave under the Employment Standards Act, the abridgement of notice requirements for lease termination for those fleeing abuse under the Residential Tenancies Act, a pilot project providing independent legal advice for sexual assault survivors, the creation of the Integrated Domestic Violence Court and many other legal advances. Most recently, in June, 2019, the Federal Government enacted amendments to the Divorce Act to finally incorporate an evidence-based definition of family violence and specific criteria for judicial consideration where violence is present. Amendments were also made to the Criminal Codewhich include a definition of Intimate Partner Violence (“IPV”), harsher penalties and a higher threshold for bail, where the accused has prior convictions for IPV and new restitution remedies allowing courts to order payment of expenses such as moving costs and groceries by the accused, if convicted.