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Alma Donovan: Day of Remembrance serves as a call to action

Memorial to the victims of the  École Polytechnique Massacre, Dec. 6, 1989.
Memorial to the victims of the École Polytechnique Massacre, Dec. 6, 1989.

Today, Canada pauses to remember the 14 women who lost their lives 27 years ago at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Since 1989, there have been many school massacres and, unfortunately, we’ve grown somewhat used to them. The Montreal Massacre was different as the gunman, Marc Lépine, had a specific target: women. In 20 minutes, he shot or stabbed 27 people, mostly women, before shooting himself.

Alma Donovan – Op-Ed

As we reflect on those who lost their lives on that fateful day, let’s take a look at the life of Lépine and try to unravel how a young man can become a murderer.

His mother, when interviewed following the arrest of her son, had identified his anger against women and that this had been part of his very make-up since his teen years.  Further investigation found that Lépine had been brought up in a home of domestic violence. His Algerian father and French-Canadian mother had divorced over issues of abuse, which extended to the children. His father could be brutal, with no control over his emotions, and was known for evoking physical violence.

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Though his parents divorced when he was seven, he was still exposed to his father and was strongly influenced by him. The boy hated his father so much that he changed his family name, from Marc Gharbi to Mark Lépine, at the age of 13. Despite distancing himself he adopted his father’s views about women as second class, and not equal to men. As time went on, rather than appreciate his mother’s attempt to improve life for her family, Lépine only saw betrayal.

Several years later his anger turned to rage when he failed to obtain a “rightful spot” in an engineering program. He blamed “feminist women” who did make the class. They became his target. He went into the classroom where there were both men and women, asking them to separate into two groups: men on one side, women on the other. When this didn’t happen he fired a single shot into the ceiling and this resulted in the division. The men were forced to leave and the women remained. Fourteen women were killed.

This act of division calls to mind times within our history where anger and hatred divided society. The Holocaust, where over six million Jews perished because of the power of one man’s anger and hatred toward the Jewish people. In Rwanda, 800,000 Tutsi were slaughtered by the Hutu tribe because of hatred toward the Tutsi tribe and during each of these situations the world stood by and watched it happen.

Even closer to home, the Residential School in Shubenacadie was established where Aboriginal children were torn from their parents homes to attend these boarding schools. There, the ‘white tradition” was mandated in an attempt to banish First Nations culture. We stood by and watched it happen.

Today, the National Day of Remembrance, we are called to “take action,” but take action by doing what? Surely we will never face situations that are as extreme as I have mentioned?

But I assure you that every day we are faced with situations that can be acted on in such a way that can leave impressions on family, co-workers and even strangers.

Here are some examples:

·     So when there is a joke at the expense of a particular group or individual will you condone it by laughing with everyone?

·     When your child wants a violent video game will you make the purchase because “all the other kids have it?”

·     Will you engage in a discussion about the lyrics of the popular song or music video that has been in the top 10 charts for weeks that clearly promotes violence and sexual exploitation?

·     When you are at a party and you see that she has had too much to drink will you see that two friends get her home safely?

I believe that we are called to take action by embracing humanity and to be respectful of our differences. It is our job to cultivate a society of peace and safety for all, despite any differences we may have. We need to stand as one and when we recognize the anger in its many facets we must stand up to it and say No! Say no to inappropriate jokes as inflicting pain is no laughing matter. Say no to violent music and games. Say no to manipulating individuals on school grounds or in a dating relationship. Abuse at any age is wrong.

I challenge you today to report abuse when you see it. Be the by-stander that takes action because protecting the innocent victim is a shared responsibility. History has taught us to no longer stand by and watch it happen. Stand up for our community and what we value. Stop cultivating that which leads to destruction within our society. That is our job, our mandate and our call to action.

Alma Donovan  is a Domestic Violence Case Co-ordinator with the Interagency on Family Violence and Cape Breton Regional Police. She lives in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

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