On this day in 1989, a terrible act of violence was perpetrated in our country against a group of young women. So we use this National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to reflect on that tragedy and what we can do to prevent similar things from happening in the future.
I suppose because I am a father of daughters I feel a particular urgency about the need for Canadian men to participate in the effort to end violence against women and girls, and — to be blunt about this — feel particular contempt for Canadians who stand in the way of this effort for self-interested or self-indulgent reasons.
This is not just a “women’s issue.” This is an issue for all of us.
Often at this time of year I find myself writing something about the need for men and women alike to do practical things that are within our power to protect women from violence, and to protect the rest of us too.
It’s all very well to talk about having no tolerance for violence or completely ending violence, but these are worthy goals we will never completely achieve. There is a lot we can do, though, that is practical and achievable on a small scale that can make women safer.
In our workplaces and in the political sphere we can start to talk about the need for occupational health and safety legislation and rules that are enforceable and enforced, and that take into consideration in a clear-sighted way the need for women’s safety in the workplace, in schools and on our streets. Most often when we do this, of course, we’re not just protecting women, we’re protecting ourselves as well.
A specific example of this is the urgent need here in Alberta for meaningful working alone legislation that will ensure no woman — or no man, for that matter — has to work alone at night in a vulnerable commercial premises.
And, yes, we should fight for the rights of women and men alike to be represented by unions, because no group in our society represents all of us more effectively in making occupational health and safety in the workplace an achievable goal — not to mention in creating the conditions in society that can end the frustration and ignorance that contribute to gender-based violence.
Do not doubt for a minute that those groups in our society who would make it more difficult for working people to be represented by unions are working directly against the right of us all, women and men alike, to live and work free of causal violence, bullying and threats.
But I think the most important thing we men can do is to have the courage just to speak up about violence against women. If you suspect violence is affecting the lives of women you work with, it’s time to acknowledge your responsibility to say something about it. If you think a man you like or work with is perpetrating violence against women in his life, it’s time to say something to him. Failing to do so is nothing more than allowing gender-based violence by proxy.
Talk about a small thing we can do that will change the world in big ways! When I was a young person, it was routine — and to a significant degree expected — for young people to drive on occasion under the influence of alcohol. In many circles this was something that was considered undesirable, but not really that big a deal. Consider how the world has changed just because large numbers of Canadians changed their attitude, or even just spoke up about an attitude they already held!
I believe the social disapproval of mixing alcohol and the operation of automobiles has done more to prevent drunk driving than stiff penalties will ever do. And vocal social disapproval of violence against women — especially if men are doing the speaking — can do more to protect women that all the ugly jails that Stephen Harper wants to build.
I recognize that this can be hard. It can be threatening. It can be unpleasant. Well, it’s time to man up, as it were, and start to do our part to protect the women in our lives and in our society.
I spoke a moment ago about the particular contempt I feel for those of us who stand in the way of this effort for self-interested or self-indulgent reasons. I am thinking of course of the deeply contemptible action of our Conservative majority government in Ottawa not just to shut down the national long-gun registry — which now that it is set up and running, costs each of us about the cost of a Starbucks latte each year to operate — but to destroy the valuable, life-saving information that has been collected in that effort.
The registry, it should be noted, was for all its imperfections developed as a direct response to the tragedy of Dec. 6, 1989, and it was slowly producing results, no matter what self-indulgent gun nuts and cynical Conservative practitioners of wedge politics may tell you.
The Harper Conservatives were never motivated by factual analysis or a genuine strategy to save taxpayers’ money on this issue. They merely saw an opportunity to create a wedge issue that could win them a few seats in a few rural ridings upset about some aspects of the registry legislation. Rather than tweaking the legislation, or finding ways to make the registry cost less, they chose this contemptuous and contemptible approach to gain political advantage.
They claim to be concerned about debt, deficits and the cost of the registry. A government that wants to spend $9 billion — or $19 billion or whatever it ends up costing — on F-35 fighter-bombers wants us to take them seriously on this? You really can’t put this too gently: They are lying. They. Are. Lying.
In terms of its over-all social impacts, this may not be the worst policy adopted by this Harper government. In terms of its ultimate objectives it may not be the most deceptive. But as a symbolic act and an example of the willingness to put anyone’s life, anyone’s safety, well behind their political advantage, this is a powerful example of a government that is profoundly cynical.
I suspect that many true Conservatives know in their hearts that this is true, but are too deeply invested in their party and its other policies to speak up. I have known many Conservatives over the years for whom it is impossible not to have enormous respect, despite the fact I had big disagreements with them over their view of the world.
I think on this issue — and others like it that are bound to arise as long as Stephen Harper is our prime minister — they have the same duty as the rest of us who suspect a woman in our circle is being victimized by violence. It is a duty to speak up, to express their disapproval, to act in small and practical ways to help end violence against women.
It won’t be pleasant for them either. But if they feel as we do, yet don’t have the courage to speak up, they deserve both our pity and our contempt.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.