After the worst mass shooting in Canadian history unfolded across Nova Scotia in April 2020, when a lone shooter went on a devastating two-day rampage, investigators appointed to dig deep into the attack described gender-based violence as an epidemic in this country.
The public inquiry into the attacks that killed 22 people, including one woman who was pregnant, recommended “all levels of government in Canada declare gender-based, intimate partner, and family violence to be an epidemic that warrants a meaningful and sustained society-wide response,” among its many findings.
Emma Cunliffe, who served as research and policy director for the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission, will share reflections as the keynote speaker at the Peter Jaffe Lectures on Ending Domestic Violence on Nov. 28.
“Addressing gender-based violence is an ‘everyone’ issue,” said Katreena Scott, academic director of Western’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC), which hosts the annual lecture.
“We need to raise the profile of the conversation. We need to raise the frequency of people recognizing and responding and knowing about gender-based and domestic violence. That’s one of the reasons to do this lecture series: it’s meant for everyone, because this is a concern for everyone.”
Scott also shared an expert report with the Commission, detailing an early intervention system for intimate partner violence. It was adopted and recommended as part of the public inquiry’s final report, Turning the Tide Together.
Cunliffe, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, will speak about her role on the Commission, noting it was at times traumatizing to study the violence so carefully and closely. The team was buoyed by the community care and “tremendous resilience” shown by locals, she said.
The public inquiry systematically examined mass casualties in Canada and around the world, finding that many began with an episode of violence within a family. A significant number of perpetrators had a history of gender-based violence.
“Those links, I think, had not been well understood before. They underscore the significance of taking violence against women seriously. They proved the lie to the proposition that violence against women is somehow a private matter,” Cunliffe said.
“Everybody loses when women experience violence. In the rare instance of mass casualty, the failure to take other kinds of violence seriously is a failure to prevent mass violence.”
‘Getting to live where the hope was’
Cunliffe described her work on the Commission as “where the hope was.”
“I had, in lots of ways, the benefit of getting to live where the hope was – doing the work that, if we did it well, could help prevent incidents like this in the future and could help to ensure events would be better responded to in the future.” – Emma Cunliffe, research and policy director for the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission
“Everybody who worked for the Commission was drawn to do the work because we were determined that something good, if possible, should come out of something so awful. Nova Scotians literally marched in the streets for this public inquiry. That was a responsibility the Commision was very conscious of, the need to make it count.”
She received help from researchers and scholars across the world, an outpouring of goodwill and a desire to see change that prompted every person she called to agree to contribute, Cunliffe said.
As for implementing that change – the final report contains 130 recommendations in total – there remains a long road ahead.
The first to be adopted after the public inquiry wrapped up its work was the creation of an implementation team, which will report on progress made on the recommendations to ensure public accountability.
“There’s a history of government implementing recommendations that are either relatively either to implement or consistent with other aspects of their platform or political beliefs. That’s always a concern,” Cunliffe said.
She hopes the public reporting will keep engagement and momentum high, saying she’s “cautiously positive.”
Peter Jaffe Lectures fall within global campaign
Cunliffe will reflect further on the outlook for change during her talk on Nov. 28.
The series was started in 2021 to recognize psychologist and education professor emeritus Peter Jaffe, a founding partner in CREVAWC. An anti-violence researcher is invited each year to speak about their work.
“It’s a real honour to give a lecture that’s named for Jaffe. He has a history of having made an enormous contribution to the legal system’s understanding of violence against women, and the experiences of women,” Cunliffe said.
The annual event is hosted during the 16 Days of Activism, Nov. 25 to Dec. 10. Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which commemorates the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre when 14 women engineering students were murdered, also falls within the global campaign.
CREVAWC was created in response to the tragedy.
Scott said she’s excited to welcome Cunliffe and reach out to the community with a free, public lecture in hopes of responding more broadly, and more effectively, to gender-based violence at all levels.
“People need to know – and respond,” she said.
Scott also sits on a local committee that reviews deaths with potential domestic violence involvement.
“It’s neighbours, friends, families, coworkers,” showing up in those cases, she said.
“We need people to see what’s right in front of them.”
JOIN THE 16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM
*Explore: CREVAWC offers 16 days of education and exploration.
*Listen: Attend the Peter Jaffe Lectures on Ending Domestic Violence virtually on Nov. 28.
*Learn: Take a free, one-hour training designed for anyone concerned about intimate partner violence.
*Donate: CREVAWC and organizations supporting women in the community are always accepting help.