Not So Silent

As I’m typing this, it’s the wee hours of the morning of December 6th. Today marks the 20th year since the Montreal Massacre, when Marc Lepin walked into the Ecole Polytechnique and murdered 14 women, blaming feminism for ruining his life. (He also injured 10 other women, and 4 men, before turning the gun on himself.)

Over the past 20 years, I’ve probably attended 14 memorials for the Massacre. The ones I’m most familiar with were the ones held at the first university I attended. There, we would gather in a solemn circle lit only by candles. 14 young women would each read the name of one of the dead, and blow out their candle, and we would mourn.

Last year I attended Halifax’s first “Not So Silent Vigil”. Instead of focusing on the murders in Montreal, this vigil was for all the women in Canada who have been victims of domestic violence. Speakers, singers, dancers, and even a hilarious feminist comedienne took on the subject of violence and sexism. There was a moment of silence, in memory of our dead. There was a moment of screaming, for the women who cannot or will not scream.

We have this memorial for gender-based violence every year. In recent years, national vigils have begun to remind us of dead and missing First Nations women (Sisters in Spirit Vigil [PDF]) There are vigils around the world for trans* men and women. We are beginning, slowly, to talk about how these different identities mean that some women’s deaths count, while others don’t merit more than page B3 in the local news.

The Not-So-Silent Vigil (last year) was a group project where many women representing many groups in Halifax came together and created a dramatic and moving experience. I found it to be inclusive of First Nations women and Africa-Nova Scotian women, although others may have different opinions.

It was until I was walking home with Don that I realised that there had been no mention of women with disabilities.

I don’t fault the people behind the Vigil for this. They did a lot of hard work to bring together the groups that they did, and I have no idea if more people will be involved this year, if women with disabilities will be included. (If not this year, then I should get myself involved for next year – I think the women who do this work every year take on a great deal, and I wouldn’t want to ask them to do more than they already are.)

But I also wonder – would it be controversial for me to ask for a moment of silence and screaming for Tracy Latimer? Every time her murderer, her father, comes up for parole, the newspapers take the opportunity to argue whether or not it was morally wrong for him to murder Tracy. People argue that he should be released, because it’s not like he’ll kill again. Disabled children don’t come along every day, after all.

I don’t know, I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to write about this. I don’t want to risk being told that the murder of women with disabilities is a special interest that shouldn’t be brought up at this memorial. But at the same time, I have no reason to believe that I would be told that (except that I’ve been told that in the past, about other memorials to violence against women, but not by this group). Is it appropriative to want to name our names, to remind everyone that violence against us is sometimes considered okay, because our lives are considered less worthy?

Katie-Lynn Baker was starved to death by her mother. Her murderer argued that she could tell Katie-Lynn, who had Rett Syndrome (a form of autism) and couldn’t speak, wanted to die, so she just stopped feeding the 10 year old girl. Her murderer was never even charged with a crime.

Chelsea Craig was fed a lethal dose of medication by her mother, who was found not criminally responsible due to mental illness. The accused claimed she murdered Chelsea because she didn’t want to leave Chelsea alone with her father.

The murderer of Charles-Antoine Blais drowned him in the tub because his autism was too much for her. After her year of community service, she became a spokesperson for an Autism foundation in Montreal. He was 6 years old.

We don’t talk about these names, these deaths, very often. Tracy’s comes up whenever her murderer is up for parole, but I had a hard time finding information about the other names, about Chelsea and Katie-Lynn and Charles-Antoine. We don’t seem to have a national memorial, a day to honour the children who are murdered for being disabled, the women who are raped for being institutionalized, the beating and torture of cripples done out of boredom. We don’t recite the names of our dead.

Should we? Should I incite controversy and recite the names today? Should I shout them during our moment of screaming, for myself if no one else? Should I approach the women who have worked so hard on this vigil and ask to be a part of it, so next year I can recite the names of every woman with disabilities murdered in Canada in the next 12 months?

Is silence ever the right answer?

Today we remember our dead, killed for being women and daring to attend Engineering School, and I recite these names, like a rosary, every year.

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

I hope you will all forgive me, but this has taken 2 1/2 hours to write, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to discuss it.

9 thoughts on “Not So Silent

  1. Thank you for your bravery in writing this insightful article! Your question, “Is silence ever the right answer?” is a very complicated one. I believe that, in general, silence is not the right answer in cases like the Montreal Massacre and others mentioned in this article. I think that atrocities like these warrant major attention, which cannot be achieved through silence. However, I also feel that, in order for survivors and others affected to fully heal, it’s important to have boundaries regarding the ways in which the attention is used. For example, you do not want to constantly see accusations against the victims in the newspapers or online.

  2. I felt hesitant to comment on this post at all, because, as an American, I am profoundly disconnected from the Montreal Massacre and I feel like it’s almost appropriative for me to talk about it at all, let alone to comment on how it should be commemorated. But I’ll plunge ahead anyway, because you bring up an important issue.

    Since the commemoration of the Montreal Massacre appears to have evolved into a larger discussion about violence against women, I think it’s very appropriate to break the silence and start talking about the deaths of women with disabilities. After all, we are women too, and it sounds as though an effort for inclusion is being made, so why not expand that effort?

    …violence against us is sometimes considered okay, because our lives are considered less worthy…

    For this reason, above all others, these names should be voiced. Cried out. Violence against women with disabilities should be discussed on a day in which violence against women is discussed, especially since such violence is sometimes condoned by society. Violence against disabled women is often erased, and I don’t see any way to bring it forward other than breaking the silence. Those viewed as “lesser” will continue to be viewed as such until society is reminded, over and over, that they are equal.

    The fact that it might be controversial to ask people gathering to commemorate the deaths of women who died by violence to address deaths of disabled women who died by violence says a lot about society.
    .-= meloukhia´s last blog ..Now Listen Here =-.

  3. There’s a somewhat recent story about a four-year-old girl in England who had Cerebral Palsy; she was murdered by her mother who said she was “ashamed” because she had a daughter like that. The story makes me cry every time I see or read about it:

    I have “mild” CP too, so I feel especially horrible and angry about it.

    The little girl was so cute — it makes me really sad.

  4. @Este: That reminds me of the case of Katie McCarron here in the States, a 3-year-old autistic girl who was smothered to death by her mother. Mrs. McCarron did end up being convicted of murder, but before the verdict, there were numerous letters to the editor in which parents sympathized with the murderer.

  5. For whatever it’s worth I absolutely think that women with disabilities deserve their own acknowledgment alongside their trans sisters, cis sisters, gay sisters and sisters of color. We are all devalued because we are female but some of us are devalued for other reasons too and there is power in those who survive acknowledging that fact. Since it seems the organizers of this event have realized that, I would hope that your desire for inclusion would be met with the appropriate response: “yes, of course!” While people often disappoint us, if you have a good feeling about this group, and you are up for it, maybe you should give them the chance to not disappoint you.

    On the Montreal Massacre in particular, I only ever first heard about it last year via Womanist Musings and I was really surprised to have never seen it come up before, even though I do live in the States.
    .-= whatsername´s last blog ..Patrick Stewart on violence against women =-.

  6. I think getting involved next year is a great idea. If the Halifax vigil is about violence against women, not solely about that specific massacre, then it should definitely include women with disabilities, as other people have said. Since the organisers are making an effort to be more inclusive, surely they’d welcome someone adding another aspect to their event.
    .-= Legible Susan´s last blog ..New community =-.

  7. Recite them. Scream them. Everyone deserves to be remembered. Feminism isn’t just about perfect able bodied white women. It’s for all of us.

    If it’s contraversial, it’s because you’re treading on someone’s prejudice that needs challenging anyway.

    *hands you some spoons for the journey*

  8. From the sound of things, I think you would be welcomed if you asked to speak about another group of women whose experience is slighted.

    After all, that is the point of reaching out to groups of women who are erased, right? And we are quite emphatically erased and slighted and lessened when it comes to our experiences and crimes against us.

    If it would not be too hard for you, I think it would be a good (okay, AWESOME) thing to see about working with them next year. I expect they are victims of the unconscious ableist bias and didn’t think about us that way, but it sounds like they should be willing to change that.


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