On a day aimed at bringing violence against women to an end, a community in Manitoba is mourning the deaths of four women at the hands of an alleged serial killer. Advocates say more action is needed to curb the increasing violence against women in Canada.
Dec. 6 marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. On this day 33 years ago, an armed man walked into a classroom in École Polytechnique de Montréal, killing 14 women and injuring 13 others in an anti-feminist attack.
Amrita Chavan, communications specialist for the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters, said gender-based violence has been escalating over the decades.
“If we do not take action against this urgent human rights crisis, the fatalities and the femicides are just going to keep increasing,” Chavan said.
She said it’s a day that is even more important to Manitobans, as an investigation into the deaths of four Indigenous women continues.
Winnipeg police say Morgan Beatrice Harris, 39, Marcedes Myran, 26, Rebecca Contois, 24, and an unidentified woman since referred to by the community as Buffalo Woman (Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe) – were killed by an alleged serial killer.
Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki, 35, is facing four charges of first-degree murder. None of the charges against him have been proven in court.
“We are mourning four beloved Indigenous women and community members and we’re standing with their families, we are also holding in our memories and our thoughts the 14 women who were killed by violence 33 years ago in Montréal,” Chavan said.
She said gender-based violence is still ongoing.
In Manitoba over the last year, she said there have been more than 18,000 crisis calls, with more than 2,500 women and children getting support from the shelters.
“In Manitoba this year alone, we’ve seen 18 women tragically lost to violence, this is an unprecedented number,” said Rochelle Squires, the Minister responsible for the Status of Women. “We know there is so much work that needs to be done on eradicating gender-based violence.”
Chavan said the first step people can take to combat the violence is believing survivors.
“It takes enormous courage for a survivor or a victim of violence to disclose abuse,” she said. “We have to make it safe and okay for them to disclose their violence, and we have to believe them. This culture of victim blaming, it’s not okay and it has to end.”
The second thing Chavan said people can do is educate themselves and others on what a healthy relationship is, what consent means, and what are the various kinds of abuse.
“We can learn to be active bystanders – interrupting harmful language and misogynistic, sexist, homophobic, transphobic language, and behaviour,” she said. “That’s very important because that holds people accountable and it sends a message to everybody in society that this is not okay and it’s got to stop.”
She said there needs to be widespread investment in training and funding for organizations that are on the front lines, supporting survivors and doing the work.
A sunrise ceremony was held at the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday morning to bring awareness to gender-based violence, and to honour the lives of the women who have become victims of gender-based violence.
The province also lowered the flags to half-mast and plans to light the Legislative Building with a purple ribbon on Tuesday evening.
-with files from CTV’s Jeff Keele
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