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.
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.