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University of Victoria cancels National Day of Remembrance

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For the first time in 22 years, the University of Victoria (UVic) will not be hosting a memorial for the National Day of Remembrance and Action Against Violence Against Women.

The December 6 National Day of Remembrance started on the first anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, an incident where 14 women studying engineering were killed in a shooting at the École Polytechnique. In the past, classes at UVic have been cancelled for an hour.

Instead, two film screenings with panel discussions were hosted on campus. On November 29, Marker of Change was screened and on December 1, Finding Dawn was screened.

According to Grace Wong Sneddon, UVic's Advisor to the Provost on Equity and Diversity, the shift was based on a request made by the families of the women killed at the École Polytechnique shooting.

"At the 20th anniversary, the families made it very clear to us that the families didn't want the names of the victims to keep on going and wanted us to not keep highlighting that piece, but to focus on other areas and other issues," she explained. "It's violence against women, which is still an issue. I think Finding Dawn really speaks to that."

Wong Sneddon says she hopes the events move beyond simply an acknowledgment of the Montreal Massacre.

"We cannot forget violence against women, but we want to not just focus on École Polytechnique, but to move it on to the greater issue," she said.

However, many feel that the cancellation of the memorial event came out of the blue, and minimizes the importance of the conversation surrounding violence against women.

"It's really, really frustrating actually that the university is withdrawing a lot of its support of the events that usually happen," said Mandee McDonald, communications and outreach co-ordinator for the Women's Centre. "Nobody really heard of it."

The Women's Centre didn't have the capacity this year to help plan the events leading up to December 6. The Centre is focusing its efforts on the December 16 Red Umbrella Rally to End Violence Against Sex Workers and the February 14 Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

"I still expected the university to plan an event as meaningful as it's always been," she says, "and not just that, but hopefully broaden the scope of December 6 in general to facilitate the creation of space where the memorial and action component of December 6 could reflect the myriad ways in which violence against women manifests other than just in the academy."

McDonald thinks the scope and content of the conversation needs to shift, not the scale of the event.

"It's also kind of problematic in how ... it almost defines violence against women in Canada by this instance of violence that was really terrible, but it centres the focus on this instance and on the experiences of women in the academy," she explains. "It also has this effect of marginalizing the experiences of women of colour and Indigenous women who also experience violence every day, and I would argue, are disproportionately affected by violence in Canada. So I think it's really important to keep these conversations going and memorializing women impacted by violence and acknowledging that it still exists and it's still a problem."

Despite these issues, McDonald says she doesn't think the event should be cancelled, calling the discontinuation a "cop-out."

"We have to respect the families' wishes that they don't want the women's names mentioned in the memorial, but I didn't take that to mean the families want the memorial cancelled altogether. Maybe I'm wrong about that. Anyway, there are lots of other things the university can do to memorialize women impacted by violence without centring on one specific instance of it," she said. "They could have invested resources in raising awareness around other issues regarding violence against women."

McDonald is not alone in her criticism of the university's decision. The UVic Students' Society (UVSS) voted to write a letter to the university at their November 28 meeting asking that the university reinstate the event and restore its funding.

"Knowing that the university chose to not cancel classes this year, without any consultation, without an announcement ... it's only fair that the Students' Society make the university know that this has not gone unnoticed by students," said UVSS Chairperson Tara Paterson.

The Anti-Violence Project (AVP) also scaled back participation in this year's planning for the National Day of Remembrance to put more energy into the Red Umbrella Rally and Memorial March. However, AVP planned a clothesline project in resistance to the university's discontinuation of the ceremony and class cancellations. The clothesline will be "a collaborative display that bears witness to acts of violence and acts of resistance to violence." The clothesline is scheduled to take place when classes were previously cancelled. The UVSS also voted to support AVP's initiative.

Last year, a plaque was created in commemoration of the National Day of Remembrance to be hung outside the engineering building. However, as of press time, the plaque has not been installed.

This article was reprinted from the University of Victoria's newspaper the Martlet.

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