Violence still an issue, 19 years after massacre

Nineteen years after a gunman stalked the halls of Montreal’s l’École Polytechnique and opened fire on a classroom of female engineering students, YMCA of Western Ontario director of marketing and communications Anne Baxter says violence against women remains prevalent in Canada.

“As much as we would like to believe we are safe out in the streets, this is not the case,” she says. “It’s still happening and it’s still very prevalent in Canada and elsewhere.”

Baxter is the keynote speaker at the Montreal Massacre Memorial Service hosted by the Women in Engineering Group and the Undergraduate Engineering Society at The University of Western Ontario on Dec. 5.

On the cusp of the 20th anniversary, the university is holding a ceremony to remember the 14 women who died on Dec. 6, 1989, as well as Lynda Shaw, a 21-year-old Engineering student murdered in 1990 along Highway 401 while returning to the university after a holiday weekend with her family near Brampton, Ont.

The public event will be held in the Spencer Engineering Building, Room 3109 at 10:30 a.m. and will include comments from the Women in Engineering Group and a candle lighting ceremony.

Baxter has deep roots at Western, formerly holding the position of the director of the President’s Office and she is a Western alumna. She also sat on the board of Women’s Community House in London – a safe, transitional shelter for abused women and their children – for 16 years, including acting as board chair.

But, throughout her career she has maintained a commitment to the prevention of women’s abuse.

“We shouldn’t point fingers to men or women because it is a societal problem and we all need to turn our attention to it,” she says.

The tide must turn on the staggering statistics, she adds, noting on average, two women in Canada die at the hands of their partners each week. “It’s not just a problem for one sector of the community; it affects all walks of life.”

Baxter says it is important to mark the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre “so that we don’t forget women were killed for no reason other than the fact they were women.”

Through continued education of men and women and anti-violence awareness campaigns, Baxter hopes the day will come when violence against women stops.

Although she was only two years old when the incident at l’École Polytechnique occurred, Julie Lediges, vice-president communications for the Women in Engineering Group, says the impact resonates with her now as an engineering student.

“It had a big impact on engineering, both with scaring women away and having them worry about discrimination, but it’s also had a positive impact. After the event happened there were a lot of programs put into place to encourage and support women in engineering and there were huge increases in enrolment trends in the early 90s,” she says.

Lediges says women make up about 22 per cent of the engineering student population at Western, adding the ratio varies by department. Although the university environment is supportive of female engineers, Lediges says changes need to be made to address stereotypes in North American society preventing women from entering the field.

Women in Engineering and the Undergraduate Engineering Society are also collaborating with the University Students’ Council (USC) to hold additional events marking the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre in the University Community Centre. Similarly, the USC will begin its White Ribbon Campaign on Dec. 1 to support men working together to end vio