Montréal: 25 years ago today

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Montréal massacre, in which on December 6, 1989, 14 young women were killed, and 13 others wounded, by a deranged man nursing a grievance about his non-admission to the engineering school in which his victims were students. Let us take a moment now to remember the names of the 14 who were killed, young women full of promise and hope:

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 Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz.

In the years following this dreadful event, survivors, families, friends and citizens in general worked together to strengthen legal controls on guns and gun owners, and to ban the sale of military weapons to members of the general public. For many years a database of gun ownership was maintained by the federal government, a database which police across the nation used to track down the criminal use of firearms.

Now, twenty-five years later, we are not only back legally where we were at the time of the massacre, but have regressed beyond this, in that the requirement to record gun sales, which had been effect since 1977, has been eliminated by our government. The database has been destroyed (except in Québec, which continues to fight the deletion of this data as it pertains to that province); and the Harper government has tabled amendments to the gun control laws which propose to relax controls on military weapons and handguns.

Why is this happening? It is happening because the ruling Conservatives are pandering to a particular segment of their voting base, which includes many gun owners who resent any kind of control on their individual “God-given” (in their view) rights to own and use guns, and public safety be damned. Ironically, we have in the cabinet a Minister of Public Safety, so called, who supports these amendments, which will certain contribute to Canada becoming less safe, especially for women. In other words, these proposed laws are ideologically motivated, and come from a government with a twisted and faux-nostalgic view of an idyllic, rural Canada of rugged individuals, a Canada for the most part imaginary. I also see evidence here of creeping libertarian Americanism of the kind promoted in that unhappy country by the National Rifle Association. Why, I have often wondered, is it no problem to have one’s driver’s license registered, and an “affront to liberty” to have one’s guns registered?

This is the same federal government which refuses to recognize that the murder or disappearance in recent years of more than a thousand aboriginal girls and women constitutes a social challenge. The government prefers to see this as an aggregation of many individual instances of crime, rather than an indication of a systemic situation arising out of racism and the quasi-colonial reality of so much of aboriginal life. Again we mention some names of actual women: Tina Fontaine, Monica Jack, Rinelle Harper, Natasha Flett.

Why do events like the Montréal massacre occur, or why are we, as a nation, content to put up with the murder or disappearance of aboriginal girls and women? I take it for granted that an unwillingness by many men to accept contemporary changes in gender relations in our time, and the hatred of women which results, are prime motivators for the sad and alienated men who commit these crimes. As a society, it is clear that we do not place the same value on the lives of aboriginal women that we do on the lives of non-aboriginal women; and that women serve as a focus for hate, anger and frustration on the part of such men. As the father of two daughters, I take this unhappy reality very seriously.

Rather than attempt anything in the short space of this blogpost by way of social analysis, I will focus on two major factors in our apparent inability to respond effectively, and on a national level, to these happenings. The first is that we are currently governed by an ideologically-driven, mean-spirited, even heartless government, which I for one will do everything in my power to see defeated in the next federal election, a holy work in which I invite any reader of this blogpost to join me. The second is that 80% of us are so exhausted by the number of hours it takes to earn enough money to pay our bills that we welcome the numbing that comes to us through watching TV, which I have no doubt that Karl Marx, were he still with us, would quickly identify as the opium of the people, displacing institutional religion.

If not social analysis, what then? My mind turns for perspective to what the writer of the first letter to Timothy in the New Testament says about human relations in general (chapter 5, verses 1 and 2). He offers an inclusive spiritual paradigm, in which he asks his readers to treat older men as fathers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, and younger men as brothers. Let’s call this a spiritual analysis; because surely the tragedies of which I have written demand nothing less than a heart-and-soul-level response, not simply a political, bureaucratic or managerial response.  The victims and their killers are our sisters and our brothers. Everyone we meet at home, at work, on the street, in our leisure-time activities, like them or dislike them, and whatever else they are to us, is a sister or a brother.

I am well aware that the preceding comments will be read by some as naïve or sentimental; and of course I am not suggesting that we don’t also need to undertake serious social and political measures of the kind which our present government seems to resist if not to despise. But I also feel the need to stand back and try to frame a way of looking at our society that takes account of these primal realities of relationship. I confess to having been very moved, listening to an aboriginal speaker who was speaking to a “settler” audience and was addressing us as brothers and sisters. I wondered how he could possibly do this, after the way our society had abused his people over the centuries. It is that kind of acknowledgement of our inescapable connectedness as human beings, brothers and sisters in one human family, in which, ultimately, I believe, we will find the energy to bring our society through the challenges it faces, and which this solemn anniversary invites us to accept and act upon.

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I recommend to any reader of this blogpost that he/she consider joining the Coalition for Gun Control, an all-volunteer NGO which has worked for our safety from gun violence since 1989: www.guncontrol.ca

The CBC did a retrospective on the Montréal massacre: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/where-are-we-now-25-years-after-polytechnique-a-web-chat-1.2859808

A full account of the Montréal massacre will be found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/École_Polytechnique_massacre

A new statement about confronting violence against women from the Anglican and Lutheran churches may be found at http://www.anglican.ca/news/our-solemn-promise/3003756/

A thoughtful article from The Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/12/05/how_gun_control_in_canada_became_a_mere_wedge_issue_hbert.html?app=noRedirect

 

 

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