PORT AUX BASQUES, NL – It’s hardly a big-budget production.
The movie on the white pull-down screen is entirely in black and white, the dialogue all in French with English subtitles.
But neither of those things is what makes it “difficult to get through,” as Jan Peddle remarked afterwards to acquaintances.
What makes this film so difficult to watch is the violence – not glorified as is common in a typical Hollywood action flick, but instead laid bare and raw.
The video is a recreation of the Dec. 6, 1989 Montreal massacre, when a lone gunman walked into l’École Polytechnique and murdered 14 women before taking his own life. The crime for which he sentenced them to death was that they were women.
In 1991, two years after the massacre, Parliament declared that Dec. 6 would mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada.
In the United States, Time Magazine declared this year’s Person of the Year to be “the silence breakers,” the women who spoke out on social media platforms and declared #MeToo.
At the Port aux Basques campus of the College of the North Atlantic (CNA), 14 candles were lit, and a rose was laid on each woman’s photograph as her name was read aloud.
“We all have a responsibility in every action that we have on a daily basis,” said Peddle, who is the campus manager. “That goes double for every man that is in this room.”
Tanya Hawco, executive director of the Gateway Status of Women Council, also shared her thoughts.
“The women were just like you,” Hawco said to the audience members, many of them CNA students. “They were in school, with hopes and dreams for the future.”
Hawco said for many Newfoundland women, violence continues to be a daily reality. She also pointed out that violence against women has evolved to include cyber violence, which is usually directed at younger women.
To end the violence, Hawco believes we must change the part of our culture that allows it to thrive. That begins with recognizing that sexism, misogyny and violence are closely linked.
Hawco said we all must stand up for women by not engaging in casual sexism, by choosing not to consume sexist media, by explaining the concept of consent to our children, and by taking action when we see someone who needs help.
Said Hawco, “Misogyny is not something we learn about in a textbook. It’s actually very real and it’s in our communities and it’s in our country.”
CNA student Meriah MacNeil knows full well that even in a small, close-knit community, violence against women is not uncommon.
Like many women, she has also experienced misogyny and sexism first hand.
“It’s still prevalent regardless of any size of community,” said MacNeil, who relocated to Newfoundland from Alberta.
MacNeil says education can play an important role in bringing about change.
“I think it should be definitely taught in schools, and maybe even at a high school level,” said MacNeil. “The earlier kids learn about violence and that it’s not right, the better.”
The level of violence and hate shown against the women caught up in the Montreal massacre still shocks and bewilders. The movie concludes with a message from one of the survivors of the massacre.
“He’s dead. I’m alive.” The female voice pauses. “He’s free. I am not.”
In her remarks, Tanya Hawco offered the following data:
• Half of Canadian women will experience criminal violence by men in their homes, schools or workplaces in their lifetime.
• Half of all Canadian women have survived at least one incident of sexual or physical violence.
• In Newfoundland and Labrador, that equates to over 108,000 women.
• Women are 11 times more likely than men to be a target of police-reported sexual violence.
• Every six days a woman in Canada is killed by an intimate partner.
• Of the 83 reported intimate partner homicides in 2014, 80 per cent were women.
• Women with disabilities are two times more likely to report severe physical violence, and three times more likely to report being forced into sexual activity.
• 70 per cent of spousal violence is not reported to police, and 83 per cent is directed at women.