I am writing this with a heavy heart as I would have stood together on this day, as I have many times in the past, with Pearl Sullivan, whom we lost last week. She was a leader on our campus as the first dean of the Faculty of Engineering who identified as a woman and, more importantly, was a dedicated mentor for our young and talented engineers. We miss her guidance, friendship, drive and determination for positive change, which we reflect on today.
On December 6, 1989, Canada was forever changed when 14 young women were murdered at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. On the anniversary of that horrendous day, we come together for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to reflect on the tragedy that unfolded.
We remember the emotions, the disbelief but more importantly, we remember the loss of these women who were targeted and killed simply for identifying as women. Their promising, young lives cut short. Lives, love and expertise that Canada lost.
This act of gender-based violence reverberated across our nation and into every post-secondary institution. We recognize this important day, not only to remember for ourselves but also to inform those too young to remember what happened and why. The majority of students at the University of Waterloo today were not alive to hear the news that came out of Montreal, but so many in our community were.
We remember gathering with our friends, colleagues and family members listening to the news over the radio or television with tears in our eyes trying to comprehend the motives for this horrific act of violence. The shock and sadness of that day remains inside me and so many of us across Canada. We carry that loss but it has also driven a determination to act and ensure another act of gender-based violence doesn’t happen again.
That is why the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is so important to all of us.
We mourn those killed and those wounded mentally and physically by this massacre. We do this to honour them but also to never let the memory of this attack be lost from one generation to the next.
The root of this evil and hate cannot be beaten through equal anger and hate. Only through constant discussions and education can we create lasting change. And that change is a responsibility that we all have a role in playing, particularly those who identify as men.
Gender-based violence is not a women’s issue in our society. Men must take action against toxic masculinity that breeds violence towards women, and we must also listen and support women every step of the way.
Acting to stop gender-based violence
Recent studies have shown that the increased level of isolation and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated domestic violence against women. The time to act is now.
We cannot hesitate to help and support those across our nation who identify as women, particularly Indigenous women who have been targeted simply because of their gender and background. This cannot stand in a society that seeks to be safe and just.
I urge everyone to take a moment to remember the 14 young women who were taken from us 31 years ago, but more importantly, this day is also about reaffirming our commitment to taking action. Action against gender-based violence, anger, discrimination and apathy.
We must bring light to the darkness of hate and intolerance. And, we must not hesitate to fight prejudice with love, acceptance and community.
To those 14 young women who were murdered, we remember you. To those countless in our community who are in need of safety and support, we are here to fight for you, now and always.