Remember 30: Needed company of men

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of pieces commemorating the 30th anniversary of the École Polytechnique murders. Read other Western community members’ reflections on the lessons that still echo – and even on those lessons still ignored – three decades out from that tragic day.

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After the Montreal Massacre, the Canadian government appointed a nine-person Panel on Violence Against Women to travel across the country and capture the depth of the issues and recommendations for change. I was fortunate to be the only man on the panel, with eight distinguished women who had a history of advocacy on this issue in their jurisdictions.

We received thousands of submissions and held town hall or church basement meetings in 139 communities from coast to coast to coast.

Our final report, released in 1993, was entitled Changing the Landscape: Ending Violence Achieving Equality. There were hundreds of recommendations on programs, policies and legislative reform that are still being implemented.

Change is slow.

One area that is still a major challenge in 2019 is how to engage boys and men on this subject without creating denial and defensiveness. The prevailing attitudes are best summarized as, “I don’t beat my wife or girlfriend, so this is not my problem,” or, “Why are you picking on men, women are violent, too.”

It has taken a whole generation to try to get men and boys involved in this issue and realize that their silence is part of the problem.

I reflect on the fact that many of my colleagues at Western have made this a priority. We wanted to reach all boys as early as possible. Together with my colleagues, we developed The Fourth R: Skills for Youth Relationships, a school-based curriculum targeting multiple forms of violence, including dating violence.

The Fourth R is now recognized in multiple empirical reviews as one the strongest evidence-based programs on dating violence prevention. More than 5,000 schools in Canada and the United States are using the Fourth R as part of the approved curriculum.

For the past decade, we have hosted a Fathers’ Day breakfast for coaches, teachers and high school boys to celebrate positive role models in their lives and confront violence against women and girls. We end the breakfast with a pledge to develop a personal and school action plan.

We are also involved in public education programs on domestic violence to encourage friends, families, neighbours and workplaces to recognize the warning signs for domestic violence.

A big part of our initiatives has focused on how to speak with victims and how to approach abusers in way to get them the help they need. We recognize that abusers need accountability for their behavior but also opportunities for change. We have supported research and development of intervention programs to help abusers examine their role as intimate partners and parents.

The challenges in this work are enormous, but we are seeing progress.

Dec. 6 is a yearly reminder of the importance of engaging all men and boys in this social change. That engagement is the least we owe to the lives lost and the ongoing suffering of Canadian women living with abuse or working in toxic environments.

Education professor Peter Jaffe is the Academic Director at Western’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children.