On Dec. 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered at L'Ã‰cole Polytechnique in Montreal at the hands of a crazed gunman because he wanted women out of his school. Parliament since declared the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, and this year the University of Calgary marked the tragedy with a ceremony at the Nickel Arts Museum.
"We can never forget what happened on December 6, 1989," said Meagan Kelln of the campus Women's Resource Centre.
On the stage sat 14 empty wooden chairs. On a table in front were 14 unlit white candles. As Michele Cross and Sarah Cobb read out the names of the victims of the Montreal massacre, 14 women approached Campus Security Officer Gilia Ciampanelli each with one candle. Ciampanelli lit the candles, and the women one by one returned them to the table and took their places on the previously empty chairs.
"They are a representation of other women who are experiencing violence today," said organizer Catherine Fisher, stressing the day is more than just a chance to remember the victims of violence against women, but must also be a day to promote positive action on the issue.
Fisher said this year's ceremony also focused on violence against immigrant and aboriginal women, who are more likely to face abuse. The ceremony was named "Stolen Sisters" because of Amnesty International's report of the same name on the topic of discrimination and violence against indigenous women in Canada.
"Domestic violence is at epidemic proportions in our society," said YWCA of Calgary CEO Jill Wyatt. She told the captive audience about how victims of domestic violence are always asked why they stay, but never are the abusers asked why they do not stop the abuse.
"It takes a woman an average of eight tries before she leaves the relationship for good," said Wyatt, noting for every one woman who receives a bed at the Sheriff King Home, four are turned away. "It takes courage to believe that we can make a difference.
Executive Director of the AWO Taan Native Women's Shelter, Josie Nepinak took the stage speaking movingly about the struggles of aboriginal women who have a greater chance of being a victim of violence. She recounted gruesome cases of abducted aboriginal women whose killers were never brought to justice because of a lack of emphasis on the issue. Nepinak stressed the importance of addressing the violence against aboriginal and immigrant women.
"For the stolen sisters whose spirits remain with us, and for our immigrant sisters who have suffered the same sorrow," said Nepinak.
Fisher stressed the importance of raising awareness to spur action.
"If we don't do this, then it is all in silence," said Fisher.