December 11, 2015

English Edition, No. 22

26th Anniversary of the December 6 Polytechnique Tragedy

12 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women

26th Anniversary of the December 6 Polytechnique Tragedy
12 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women
Status of Women Canada Message Blames Individuals for Violence and Chaos in a Society at Odds with the Needs of its Citizenry
- Christine Dandenault -
Justice for Native Women in Val-d'Or
- Diane Johnston -

Montreal Demonstration November 28
No to User Fees, Privatization and Austerity!

26th Anniversary of the December 6 Polytechnique Tragedy

12 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women

December 6 marked the 26th anniversary of the massacre at École Polytechnique, one of the most tragic events experienced by Quebec and Canadian society. On December 6, 1989, an individual opened fire on twenty-eight people, killing fourteen women and injuring ten others as well as four men, before ending his own life. At least four people have committed suicide since the tragedy. On the occasion of this sad anniversary, commemorations, meetings and vigils were held across Quebec in memory of those young women who lost their lives simply because they were women. These activities took place in Nicolet, Mont-Joli, Matane, Lac-Mégantic, Lachute, Montreal, Gatineau, Quebec City and other cities from November 25 to December 6 as part of the campaign: 12 Days of Action for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. The 12 Days of Action Committee that organized the campaign set three objectives for 2015: to assess the situation of women in the province and the country, to show that factually equality is still not a reality and that the struggle must continue, and to commemorate the memory of the victims of Polytechnique. Specifically, the committee wished to highlight the struggle of Indigenous women: "This year, in addition to commemorating the 14 victims, the committee wanted to underscore the struggles and resilience of Native women. Native women are targeted because they are women and because they are indigenous. This sexist and colonialist violence is rooted in the inequalities which persist amongst women and men and amongst peoples."

Women, through fidelity and determination, are pursuing the struggle to end violence against women. This is their response to the Polytechnique tragedy and to the other tragedies that continue to multiply within a context of the violence of austerity agendas, wars and aggression waged by governments and big powers against the peoples for narrow interests. Women have placed themselves at the forefront of the creation of a humanized society. The ever-growing violence and chaos prevalent in the world today are the expression of the block placed on the society that prevents it from exercising its main function of meeting the needs of its members and creating the necessary conditions so that it can flourish.

Status of Women Canada Message Blames Individuals for Violence and Chaos in a Society at Odds with the Needs of its Citizenry

Visiting the Status of Women Canada web site on the eve of December 6th, with its call so completely detached from reality, was like ending up on the site of a fanatical organization. What was found was a set of pledges and prayers to recite to encourage good behaviour, supposedly to contribute to eliminate violence against women.

"I WILL NOT blame the victim;" "I WILL help to build a community safe for all;" "I WILL raise my son to respect women;" "I WILL NOT look the other way;" "I WILL NOT tolerate degrading language about women;" "I WILL speak out about violence against women and girls;" "I WILL lead change by being a positive role model;" "I WILL teach my children to respect themselves and others;" and more. It all ends with "WILL you?"

Patty Hajdu, the Minister of Status of Women, writes: "The journey towards ending violence against women and girls is not an easy one. It is long and challenging, but I do believe it is possible. Join us in making Canada safer for women and girls by committing to take action today."

The site also provides a "guide" including "5 things we can all do to stop violence against women; Teach children about violence against women; Raise boys who respect women; Show your commitment on social media by sharing the facts," etc.

So according to the Minister and her government, it is all an issue of individual behaviour. The audacity is that this internalization directed against individuals, against persons, is being proposed by an organization representing the government. But then who is to take responsibility for the climate of extreme violence and chaos that exists in the world and in society? Today, the refusal of the public authority to address the conditions within the society, and the primary use of violence in the settling of conflicts worldwide, are the main source of the violence being inflicted on all citizens, particularly women, and even more particularly women from communities where rights are negated the most. How can issues of behaviour be detached from the anti-social and anti-national direction of society, in the service of private interests?

It is not up to the government to dictate to the citizenry their identity and their behaviour; it is the government that must be held accountable to reflecting that identity and acting in accordance with it, of realizing the demands and guaranteeing their rights of its citizens. Such a moralistic attitude towards the citizenry conceals the government's irresponsibility towards its duty to all its citizens, including women. Meanwhile, all the stops are pulled to make the people swallow cuts in services, the use of violence in the settling of international conflicts, the incitement of mistrust towards one another under the pretext of "the fight against radicalization" and of "security against terrorism" as well as today suggesting that the problem of violence against women stems from bad behaviour.

The Fight Against Violence Against Women

Moreover, the struggle and demands of thousands of women and organizations in defence of rights, the fight against violence, of women's shelters in Quebec and Canada are simply discarded, cast aside. On November 27, Quebec's Fédération des maisons d'hébergement pour femmes (Federation of Women's Housing Shelters) informed the population that over 10,000 women had been turned away from a shelter in 2014-2015 due to lack of space. "And that statistic is undoubtedly much too conservative, as it was provided by the Federation of Women's Housing Shelters, which represents 34 out of Quebec's 109 shelters. The reality could therefore be triple that number," it stated.

Data released last month by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics in a report on Criminal Victimization in Canada reveals that the only crime that has not decreased in Canada is that of sexual violence. In addition, it points out that women, in particular Native women, women with disabilities, homeless women, and women who experienced abuse as children are often its main victims.

In September 2015 the Disabled Women's Network Canada indicated that within the context of a cross-sectional analysis and their varying identity positions, women with disabilities and deaf women are the largest and most disadvantaged minority group that face the highest rate of physical, systemic, financial, psychological and family violence. The rate of violence experienced by this minority is two to three times higher than that of women without disabilities. The report highlights an urgent need to address the alarming rate of women with disabilities and deaf women experiencing systemic violence as a result of lack of services.

As recently as December 4, in Quebec, the Coordinating Committee of the campaign "I belong to my community - I support community" published the results of a survey conducted over the summer regarding the untenable situation facing community organizations, including those who provide care for abused women. Amongst other things, as a result of insufficient budgets to complete the year, groups are forced to close for several weeks, lay off staff and cancel activities.

One hundred and seventy groups have testified to having experienced one or more of the following situations during the summer of 2015: temporary or permanent closure, reduction or termination of activities, temporary layoffs -- often a combination thereof. The organizations are very diverse and located in all regions, in particular youth centres, women's centres, as well as resources for people with disabilities and support groups.

For thousands of women and their organizations the agenda remains the struggle to eliminate violence against women as well as for a public authority that takes up its social responsibility of guaranteeing the rights of all. In that regard, the liberal mantra serves only to divest the state of its responsibility with regard to women's needs.

Justice for Native Women in Val-d'Or

Allegations of sexual abuse by eight Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers against First Nations women in Val-d'Or were brought to the attention of the SQ as well the Quebec government's Ministry of Public Security through the airing of Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête on October 22. The program created such public outcry that the government quickly transferred the investigation from the SQ to the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM).

After a meeting on October 27 with the representatives of seven of Quebec's ten First Nations, Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, demanded that Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard immediately meet with First Nations leaders within 24 hours to address the situation. Picard also called for an independent inquiry into the actions of the police officers working in Val-d'Or. "The chain of confidence between our authorities, our communities and the police authorities has been broken, whether it be the Sûreté du Québec, the SPVM or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

It took a week before the Premier finally met with Quebec's First Nations representatives on November 4. Though he did not rule out the holding of a Quebec inquiry to examine the relationship between the Native peoples and the police, he said he would wait and see what Justin Trudeau's new federal government decides to do on the inquiry front. Couillard also announced the appointment of an independent observer to the SPVM investigation, despite the fact that originally he had proposed that an independent observer be mutually agreed upon by First Nations representatives and the government. He also said, "The federal government has long withdrawn from its fiduciary duty toward First Nations [...] while known situations persist, for example housing, access to potable water and electricity. I call on them to re-exercise this role they should not have left aside."

On November 17, during the first meeting of the parliamentary commission organized by the Quebec government's Committee on Relations with Citizens to deal with Native women's living conditions as affected by sexual assault and domestic violence, Édith Cloutier, Executive Director of the Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre where the revelations were first made, said: "a lot is being said about Native peoples, First Nations living on reserves, and the responsibility of the federal government [...] with regard to the Native peoples, however the violence and abuse of Native women in Val-d'Or took place in the city. These are women who live in the city, who are citizens of Quebec over whom it is the responsibility of the government of Quebec to ensure their full and complete safety. There is no jurisdictional ambiguity whatsoever on the issue of Natives in an urban milieu in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. [...] As opposed to those living on reserves, Natives living in the city are not covered by the Indian Act. [...] Full and complete jurisdiction falls under the Quebec government. [...] In Canada, 60% of status Indians live off reserve. [...] In Quebec that tendency is on the rise. [...] We're talking about close to 50% of Native peoples living in Quebec cities."

At the second meeting on November 25, Viviane Michel, President of Quebec Native Women, presented numerous proposals made in recent years by her organization to the Quebec government to stop and prevent the violence toward First Nations women and families.

The Quebec Minister of Public Security is responsible for public safety and security in Quebec. Native women against whom such serious offences have been committed, live in cities which fall under Quebec jurisdiction. But clearly they are treated separately, in a discriminatory manner when it comes to their protection as citizens and punishing those responsible at the Sûreté du Québec. The same took place during the entire debate on "reasonable accommodations" -- the government had told commissioners not to include First Nations under the pretext that "it's an entirely different issue." Now the excuse is that the Trudeau government has promised to hold an inquiry into missing and murdered Native women, so the Quebec government can wash its hands of the abuses suffered by the women in Val-d'Or at the hands of the Sûreté du Québec!

Those responsible for such criminal acts must be brought to justice and punished in accordance with the law. Otherwise, the Quebec government will only continue its shameful colonial practice of treating Native peoples as "wards of the state" with no rights, as citizens "separate" from the others and against whom any crime can be committed. The fight over which level of government is responsible for the well-being (and life) of the "wards of the state" is proof.

These events are a reminder that despite all the talk about "the best country in the world," Canada has not settled any of the fundamental aspects for the guarantee of rights. The rights of citizens and residents are subject to "reasonable limits" as decided by the police authority and are subject to a hierarchy of "exceptions" based on whether one is Native, an immigrant or belongs to one of the "founding races" etc. The fundamental law of Canada has not divested itself of its colonial foundation. The failure to guarantee the hereditary and treaty rights of First Nations, maintaining the racist Indian Act and refusal to deal with the demands of the Native peoples on a nation to nation basis are at the heart of the injustice and anachronisms that Native peoples in Canada continue to suffer.

Montreal Demonstration November 28

No to User Fees, Privatization and Austerity!

On Saturday, November 28, some 3,000 people demonstrated in Montreal against the anti-social austerity agenda of the Couillard government. Under the slogans "Austerity's Wrecking: the People's Response," and "Stop User Fees! Stop Privatization! Stop Austerity!" they marched through a neighbourhood in Villeray-Parc Extension, then made their way to the Town of Mount Royal, stopping in front of buildings that symbolize user fees and the privatization of public services such as Hydro-Québec and several private medical clinics. The event brought together community organizations that defend the most vulnerable, including several housing committees, women's advocacy centres, early childhood education centre (CPE) associations, public and private sector unions and many families. A contingent of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec was also present with its banner calling for a new direction for Quebec. The demonstrators hailed from Montreal and the Montérégie region as well as the Eastern Townships, the Centre-du-Québec, Lanaudière, the Laurentians, Mauricie, Chaudière-Appalaches and as far away as Abitibi. The protest was organized by the Coalition Main rouge (Red Hand Coalition) that encompasses more than 100 community organizations, trade unions and students and demands access to universal, high quality public services for all and proposes fiscal and policy measures to ensure the necessary revenues to finance these services.

Speakers focused on some of the most drastic measures of the anti-social austerity agenda currently being implemented: another increase in Hydro-Québec's residential rates in 2016, in addition to the 2015 increase that resulted in thousands of households being cut off because they were unable to pay their bills; the $120 million cut announced for early childhood education centres (CPEs) and subsidized private daycares, which, according to the CPEs, will result in thousands of layoffs of child care workers, the vast majority of which are women; the Couillard government bill that will cut social assistance to youth under the pretext of helping them find employment; the fact that food aid groups will no longer be funded, at a time when people increasingly need and use these services; cuts to women's shelters, the privatization of care to seniors and the homeless, the dismantling of the public school system and many others.

The demonstrators began their march motivated by lively opposition to such measures and to the austerity agenda in general, guided by the conviction that there is only one struggle against the anti-social austerity agenda that is being waged on the battlefield, the struggle in defence of the rights of all.


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