Yearly Archives: 2014
Twenty-five years ago on December 6th, a 25-year-old man walked into École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Montreal Quebec, carrying a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife. He walked into a classroom on the second floor, and asked that the men and women separate to different sides of the room. He then asked the men to leave the room. Nine women were left behind. He said, in French, that they were all feminists, and then shot all of the women in the room- six died from their injuries.
He then went to other parts of the school, shooting as he went. A total of 14 women died that day, and fourteen others were injured (10 women and four men). He then turned the gun on himself.
The women murdered that day were all young students, at school studying to become engineers. They thought that they had their whole lives and careers ahead of them. This was the first shooting of its type in Canada, and a direct act of violence not only against women, but against the feminist movement.
Two days after the shooting, part of the shooter’s suicide note was released. On it was a list of 19 women’s names. Before listing them, he wrote, in French, “The lack of time (because I started too late) has allowed these radical feminists to survive.” His list included a series of seemingly random women, some more known than others, from politicians to female police officers. It also included Francine Pelletier, a journalist who co-founded a feminist magazine called La Vie en Rose in the ‘80s and worked at La Presse newspaper at the time.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of this event, which has become known as the “Montreal Massacre.” Dec. 6th is also now the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, in order to pay homage those who died that day and to raise awareness to prevent violence against women.
In this the 25th anniversary year of this horrible act of violence, numerous women have brought forth allegations of violence by two high profile men- Jian Gomeshi and Bill Cosby. These well-publicized allegations have once again raised the profile of the extent and seriousness of violence against women and taken it out of the secrecy where it often hides. Our media is abuzz with coverage of these allegations but time will tell if the current profile of violence against women will create lasting positive change in our society.
The Ritual of Remembering has been held each year since the first anniversary of this tragic event and sadly, we must continue to acknowledge the ongoing acts of violence that are a daily reality for women in our province and country.
We hope you will stand in solidarity with us against gender-based violence.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, at 6 pm, a candlelight vigil will be held in Centennial Park, Ganges to honour of the women who died on that day 25 years ago.
Cathy Ford will be present at the vigil to read from her new poem, Flowers We Will Never Know the Names Of. The poem marks the 25th anniversary of the murders of fourteen women students at Montreal’s L’École Polytechnique, on December 6, 1989, a history-changing event. It is an incantation, a chant, a protest, memento mori, an invocation, a prayer for peace organized in fourteen sections.
The choir Women of Note will sing.
Hot refreshments will be available.
All are welcome at the vigil.
Please join us.
Lynda Laushway – Executive Director, SWOVA
SWOVA – Empowering Youth for a Better Tomorrow
As a violence prevention educator I spend each and every day I work, which includes many evenings and weekends studying, attempting to dissect the roots of violence. The case of Jian Ghomeshi has given me much pause for reflection and contemplation. In a way his alleged violent actions have affirmed much of my own research and exploration of ideas about where violence comes from. The aftermath of the disclosures of women has included much public debate, from notable feminists, and other writers. Dr. Gabor Mate’s recent opinion piece in the Star hits the mark in many ways, but also begs a deeper gendered social analysis about the ways in which we learn culturally. It is both of these that I wish to explore, with all due respect, and take the analysis deeper.
Dr. Mate notes that we live in a misogynistic culture. This means that there is an ingrained hatred of women in our society. I feel appreciative of how Dr. Mate urges us not to cast all men in the dye of being “pigs”, noting though that aggression towards females is ingrained in the psyches of all but a few men. This is an astute analysis that I see playing out in my work with young men and women in circles where they learn healthy relationships in the context of men’s violence against women. In terms of listening, one of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship, many young men enter our circles and do not have the baseline level of respect to listen to and value what young women have to say. This is because they see women as second-rate citizens, because they have been taught to do this.
More than a “few” men exhibit extreme hostility and we must be clear about this. Twelve hundred missing aboriginal women indicates this; 90,000 women a year ending up in transition houses for battered women indicates this; countless children (girls and boys) molested by men indicates this; one in three women reporting rape in her lifetime in Canada is hardly just a few men acting out violence. 19% of boys being sexually abused by a man by the time they are 18 in the province of BC is hardly a few men with dysfunction. This is an epidemic, and perhaps the most serious public health issue of our times, with historical roots going deep into colonial paradigms, and indeed family of origin pieces, which have long histories. I am speaking about how violence is passed down from generation to generation. Objectification of women that dehumanizes an entire gender is a root cause of much of the violence in our world. It also prevents men from standing in their truest human dignity.
In this way, violence is socially learned. The work of Canadian psychiatrist Alberta Bandura established that we learn violence socially. This can include from family members, friends, media, including television, movies, music, magazines, video games, and pornography. Having recently written curricula focusing on Internet Safety for youth, specifically examining and discussing pornography with youth, I can attest to the harmful nature of violence against women displayed in pornography, which youth have virtually unfettered and free access to. As my brilliant colleague Christina Antonick notes, the liberation of men is intimately tied to the liberation of women. I appreciated how Dr. Mate provided us with an honest, vulnerable and real account of his own perpetuation of violence. It is a powerful tool that males must embrace, particularly males in position of power and influence who work with young men, because it takes away the shame, which is at the root of male defensiveness in discussing violence against women. Any analysis of male violence is incomplete without examining the forces infiltrating our own lives through social learning.
It is possible that if a child’s needs are not met that they could have an internalized aggression towards women. However this argument in a way, places the blame back on the shoulders of women for men’s behaviour, though Dr. Mate acknowledges that it is a virtually impossible task for women, especially single women to achieve on their own. Furthermore, if men are being raised in a culture that is not teaching them to be emotive, and in fact encourages the opposite, is it any wonder that men have no capacity to understand their true feelings that reside beneath anger? Additionally, a child could not have needs met, grow up with abuse and violence, and still have positive influences that promote feminism, equality, social justice, and healthy relationships. The child that has adults who nurture emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion and the desire for healthy relationships is the child who will not only survive but thrive.
Jian Ghomeshi did not awaken us to this conversation. It’s been happening for decades. He may have re-awakened the need nationally, but this is not new. The brutal slaying of 14 women by Mark Lepine sparked national debate 25 years ago. That debate has continued thanks to the hard work of feminists, exemplified in the White Ribbon Campaign. It is indeed an unfinished and growing conversation. Feminism, which sought to criminalize domestic violence, and give women the right to choose (and vote), created the conversation about misogyny.
Jian Ghomeshi has done us no favours. Let’s be clear, we all wish this wasn’t happening. What we thought was a good man has fallen from grace, and in a time when we desperately need great men, this is a setback. Every year though there are tragedies of misogynistic violence involving teenage girls, ranging from Amanda Todd to Rehteah Parsons, in Canada alone. Every year millions of women are trafficked the globe over, including in Canada. Children go missing never to be seen again. Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged violence is of course deplorable, but it is only notable because it is in stark contrast to his on air persona, and is indeed happening on the scale that it is because of his celebrity status. In fact I would say that in the years that I have been involved in the field of violence prevention I have never seen such a prolific and powerful response to violence.
As each victim comes forward we have a fuller picture of the alleged violence, and with each conversation we as a nation can engage in a discourse that will lead to much needed change for women, and men.
Kevin Vowles, R+R Facilitator
SWOVA – Empowering Youth for a Better Tomorrow
The question is – how do we talk about the prevalence of violence against women in our communities without blaming and shaming the boys and young men in the room?
Just the other day I was approached by a member of our community who felt strongly that boys are being blamed for the violence that exists in this world in the R+R workshops. I was concerned that this was a total misconception of what actually goes on in our workshops and that it was not based on reality.
Before I began working with SWOVA I worked as a substitute EA in both the middle and high school, which gave me a unique opportunity to sit in on circles with SWOVA staff, faculty and students. What I experienced was a radical movement of inclusion for everyone.
In the mainstream we view violence prevention as a predominately female issue. The danger in this rhetoric is that is divides the problem into an “us vs them” model where blame lands on both sides. In reality violence prevention is a human issue that needs both men and women to address if we are going to build a new paradigm.
What I see during the SWOVA sessions now as a facilitator are young women and men having the hard conversations. We have the hard conversations about bullying, homophobia, racism, gender identification, sexism and violence. At times these conversations can be uncomfortable as we come face to face with our own biases, but I see the youth from all identities taking the plunge and diving in. I see difficult questions being raised as we learn to listen to one another.
Yes, we look at perpetrators of violence, the role the media plays, and how we contribute to continuing this imbalance but also what we can do to change it. Part of this dialogue requires looking at the statistics around violence to gain a better understanding of what is going on in communities across this county, for with knowledge comes power. Boys and men face a great deal of pressure in this world that has far reaching impacts in their lives and the lives of everyone they choose to be in relationship with. I see the young men stepping up and gathering a personal toolkit to help them navigate their way though.
Emma Watson’s (of Harry Potter fame) recent speech to the UN summed it up best when she described the role she sees for men in violence prevention. “Men (should) take up this mantle so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”
Sharyn Carroll, R+R Facilitator
SWOVA – Empowering Youth for a Better Tomorrow
Once again we are off to a great start with the R+R program in the high school on Salt Spring Island. This fall though is particularly special in a different way than it has been in the past. My former co-facilitator Christina Antonick has left Salt Spring Island to take some time for her and her partner in Jamaica. She is working hard on making her relationship realize its’ fullest potential, and also seeking to make inroads around violence prevention/healthy relationship education in Jamaica. I am feeling truly inspired by her commitment to both of these important things in her life, while each day she is missed in some way.
I am however blessed with the presence of a new and gifted facilitator, Sharyn Carroll, who I have now had the pleasure of completing one R+R delivery with. Interestingly enough, Sharyn originally came from Jamaica prior to living in Canada.
As facilitators in the R+R program, our job is to work with students around the core concept of emotional intelligence and self-awareness – that is knowing what we are feeling in any given moment. This really is the backbone of the program, and what I consider to be a core life skill. From here, the issues in any given circle, or group of students, organically emerge. We quickly see that students do not often have the space to be emotionally expressive, and that violence, often in the form of verbal violence, is present within almost every group of students, in addition to sexism, racism and homophobia. It is then that the real work for us begins, as we steer and guide the conversation through the amazing variety of activities that the R+R program has, as well as our own abilities to craft and place great questions into the discussion.
When I first started this work with Christina three full years ago this fall, I was like a fish out of water. I liked to know which direction we were going, what activities we would do, and where we would get to. I was after all a teacher. Now I see that as a more seasoned facilitator, one of the greatest gifts we can give students, is to meet them where they are at; to have the discussion where they are.
I am most pleased to say that the first R+R delivery did just that. Thanks to Sharyn’s calm approach, combined with her determination to say what needs to be said, we had a great successful first delivery. I am once again immensely grateful to be a part of the feminist movement, and to be working with a powerful, grounded, articulate, intelligent, driven, and insightful woman. I could not be any luckier in terms of the happiness and fulfillment I get from my career.
Earlier today I read on Facebook a few words from my first supervisor in the R+R program, and a massive supporter of our work, Chris Gay. She said that gratitude is the basis for happiness. Well I am profoundly grateful and happy with my work, and although my happiness in life is not determined by my career, it sure makes me feel pretty happy with my life.
SWOVA – Empowering Youth for a Better Tomorrow
“The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it.” – Nicolas Carr
This summer my co-facilitator, writer and good friend Christina Antonick, and I have been writing internet safety curricula for SWOVA and the youth of the Gulf Islands. Our curricula address sexting, cyberbullying, addiction, healthy relationships and finally, the use violent pornography. We are living in a world where violence – largely men’s violence – is tearing at the fibres of not only our societies but ourselves. As per usual, there’s been a lot going on in the world. However, this summer is unique, and if you ask people what stands out for them as we move into fall, many people will no doubt say the suicide of Robin Williams. I echo that sentiment. He was an amazing man and actor who made us laugh, cry and see our true vulnerability, and in effect, our humanity.
If we define violence as: “words or actions which harm ourselves or another person,” is there anything more violent that taking one’s own life?
We wrote the curricula this summer because the lives of young people, as they live them out online are in serious jeopardy. Of course, any loss of life is significant and worthy of mention, but I am always struck by the celebrity phenomenon whereby the death of a celebrity is infinitely more newsworthy. Of course many people loved Robin Williams, and so this outpouring of grief coupled with nostalgia is normal and in many ways healthy.
I was at the Ending Violence Association of BC’s annual conference last November. I was walking down a hallway when Amanda Todd’s mother came walking towards me. We were there doing a cyber-bullying workshop. I was ready to introduce myself to her, but before I could she said hello to me. I asked how she knew me, and she said that her and her friends had screened on her living room wall, a Legacy Event from Salt Spring Island in which I had given a speech. I was floored that she had recognized me, and shown the video that some Salt Springers had made. She remarked that Port Coquitlam had not held a legacy event. My jaw hit the proverbial floor, and my heart sank for a community that would not acknowledge grief and remembrance of a tragic loss. In comparison, celebrity can cause the whole world to remember, even though the whole world clearly does not know that person. Connection had once again been lost.
A couple of days ago a youth in circle asked us why we have to talk about teenage suicide. “It’s so depressing,” he remarked. We wrote the curricula this summer because every year in Canada more than 300 youth take their own lives. Much of this is because of violence they experience in the online world. I’m not talking solely about the notorious and tragic cases like Amanda Todd or Rehtaeh Parsons. There are youth the country and world over, who experience social isolation, ridicule, harassment, verbal abuse and sexual exploitation on the internet, and they just don’t want to live in this world where the violence they are experiencing tears them to shreds and makes them want to leave.
I experienced social isolation for two and a half years in high school. I ate lunch alone, had very few friends, and suffered extreme loneliness, in a time when I needed friendship. Never once did I contemplate ending my own life. I was lucky I suppose. Of course it brings up feelings of sadness to talk about this topic, but it is necessary because so many youth are marginalized and seek out connection via the internet – youth like Amanda Todd.
Neurology shows that when people experience exclusion and isolation, the brain reacts with pain-like responses. It feels incredibly uncomfortable when we want to be extroverted and to have friends we can’t have. I’m not sure what Robin Williams felt. I’m not sure what each youth feels who walks into circles or when they experience violence online. As Brene Brown says: when she asks people about connection, they speak of disconnection and feeling lonely. The new R+R Internet Safety curricula is about helping people feel more connected, and staying safe in the process Once again I will say that I feel truly, profoundly grateful to be involved with such an amazing organization that would conceive of such a program. I am a lucky man. Thank-you SWOVA.
By Kevin Vowles, R+R Facilitator
SWOVA – Empowering Youth for a Better Tomorrow
“Fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” – Emma Watson at the United Nations
“Maybe our future can be found in the past’s moments of kindness and courage rather than its centuries of warfare.” – Howard Zinn
Most history books are written by the winners, but this book presents history from a different point of view. The history of the United States from the perspective of the poor, slaves, women, Native Americans, and other oppressed populations is a sad story. Regardless of whether you agree with Howard Zinn or not, it is good to hear a different perspective.
The most interesting parts of this book are the many quotes that Zinn uses to illustrate his points. Christopher Columbus who is usually portrayed as a hero and adventurer who ‘discovered’ America, says the following about his encounter with the native people:
“They (Arawak Indians) brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and Hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned … They were well built, with good bodies and handsome features … They do not bear arms, and do not know them … They would make fine servants …With 50 men we could subjugate them and make them do whatever we want.”
It sounds pretty scary, but it only illustrates the prevailing attitude of a vast majority of Europeans at the time.
This quote from former slave, John Little, is a poignant description of what it was like to be a slave. “They say that slaves are happy, because they laugh, and are merry. I myself and three or four others received 200 lashes in the day, and had our feet in fetters: yet, at night, we would sing and dance, and make others laugh at the rattling of our chains. Happy men we must have been! We did it to keep down trouble, and to keep our hearts from being completely broken: this is as true as the gospel!”
Zinn devotes a few chapters to industrialization and the unionist movement. This could have been a recent quote off the internet, except that it’s from 1895! “The issue is Socialism verses Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis for civilization The time has come to regenerate society. – we are on the eve of a universal Change.” Eugene Debs, 1895.
In the chapters on recent history, Zinn focuses more on the positive. For instance, some of the families of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Centre victims traveled to Afghanistan to meet Afghan families who had lost loved ones in the American Bombing. One of the Americans was Rita Lasar, whose brother had died in the attack. Lasar said that she would devote the rest of her life to working for peace.
Another suggestion for how to change our perception in the world:
“We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism. … Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children … In short, we should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is the truth the American people need to hear.” Robert Bowman, former US Air Force Officer, 1998.
A Young People’s History of the United States is written in a simple straightforward style that will appeal to the 12 – 18 age group, but I would also recommend it to anyone interested in reading a snapshot of history from a different perspective.
by Megan Manning – Librarian/Administrator, SWOVA
I’ve been working this summer on some amazing internet safety curricula for SWOVA. It’s been yet another great opportunity to learn more about violence in our world, this time online. It’s truly been an eye opener, because of course, I am 37, and grew up in an age where we didn’t really have today’s technology. I only sent my first email when I went to University at the age of 19. My first cell phone came in my last year there, and it was a really big deal to own one! Of course now smart phones are super popular…and I am hooked like many people reading this right now.
The benefits of this technology are vast and numerous. From booking accommodation or travel on the fly, to accessing Skype, email, Facebook, and even an old school compass, the smart phone really does it all. There’s even a new app for Airbnb.com one of my favourite ways to travel to cool places and get great deals on accommodation.
The technology is meant to connect us and make our lives easier. But does it?
Last night I was standing around with some people in the small town in Spain where I’ve been living for the summer. I have stopped carrying the phone out with me, because I am convinced that I’m actually missing something as opposed to gaining something. I said to some Italian friends of mine, when you start speaking Italian, and I don’t understand, my first inclination is to pull out the phone, and see if there are any emails or Facebook chats. I do this to feel connected, and a sense of belonging. But does it really achieve that? Perhaps I might have an email from someone I care about, sure. But it also takes me out of the social interaction; out of the amazing social scene which in every second is unfolding before my very eyes. We stand outside of a pub-restaurant that is over 1000 years old. People have been standing outside socializing for 1000 years! So I told my friends that I have stopped bringing the phone and I will attempt to suffer through the internal silence; appreciate the beauty of their language, scan the crowd for a friendly face; someone that I might be able to strike up a conversation with, instead of a glowing screen. Low and behold it works, and I connect.
At the end of August I will return to Salt Spring Island from Tarifa where I have had the most remarkably social summer. I’ve been out in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, gelato shops, the beach, in people’s cars (see the best hitch hiking experiences I’ve had on my blog [www.kevinvowles.wordpress.com]). I’ve never felt more alive. I’ve never felt more connected to people.
In an effort to continue feeling like a fully embodied human being, I shall return to my life on Salt Spring Island without an operational smart phone. I will still have my computer, because I simply could not finish my degree or exist in the capacity I do as an R+R facilitator without it. From the YouTube videos that I show to youth, to the emails from funders, and the fact that it is a phone, it’s invaluable. So I’m not anti-technology, but when I walk down the hall of GISS or SIMS, I do want to be able to have a conversation with someone. I don’t want to miss someone, or appear that I am too busy, to be approached. I’ll do daily check-ins at the SWOVA office and hopefully reduce the large volume of often inefficient electronic communication. I’ll be embracing my humanity in doing so, and realizing greater human connection. Salt Spring Island is just the place to do this, and I’m confident I’ll even feel a little smarter by reducing my addiction to the internet. I’m dialing it back a little!
by Kevin Vowles, R+R Facilitator and Trainer
I recently wrote the following feedback for an online facilitator trainee for the Respectful Relationships (R+R) Program. This summer my co-trainer, Kevin Vowles and I are coaching seven new folks in facilitator online training so they can deliver the R+R program in other parts of the province!
As a trainer for the past 6 years and as a classroom facilitator for the past 9, the skills outlined below moves from our circles with youth in schools out into the world as a tangible Social and Emotion Learning life skill.
I am speaking about the intimate and engaging, the vulnerable and skill building “Check In”. Check Ins are something we do at SWOVA as a foundational piece of violence prevention work. I encourage it for parents and kids, for partners and friends, and for co-workers DAILY. Over the years, we have added a 5-minute mindfulness practice with youth- and they love it. Here is my response to the trainee’s understanding of the facilitator check-in as a human “doing” activity of preparing for the session rather than a “human being” opportunity to grow intimacy, compassion and understanding.
Please note- your facilitator check in each day prior to class is NOT for preparing for the session. This prep. should be done in a weekly team meeting. If you deliver 4 sessions in a week- plan on 2-4 hours of mpersonal prep. and 2-3 hours of co-facilitation prep. The Check In prior to the R+R session goes like this-
Each person has 3-5 minutes (or longer if needed) to do a personal check in with the group while sitting in a quiet, uninterrupted space. The Facilitation team sits quietly as witness- asking no questions and not interrupting. (they are practicing and modelling a core SEL skill in the R+R Program- reflective listening)
The Female Facilitator checks in as follows after becoming quiet and tuning into her deeper feelings: ( this is an example of one possible check in scenario- depending on the day/person it will vary!)
” I’m feeling anxious and frustrated this morning. My partner and I had an argument last night about who is responsible for groceries tonight. We didn’t resolve it. I am excited to facilitate the second activity around gender stereotypes and I’m hoping that as my ally you will address young men’s sexism if it comes up. I would appreciate that. (Male Facilitator does not reply) I am going to be aware of John, the student who left the class yesterday, I want to check in with him after the session- I was uncomfortable yesterday when he left without checking in. Should we do that together? Thanks for listening to my check in. I’m complete.”
The Check In is VERY, VERY important for a co-facilitation team. If all you do is go over workshop details- no intimacy comes into the circle with youth that is to follow or gets fostered as a co-facilitation team. This happens in marriages all the time- people stop revealing vulnerability and listening to each other with compassion as a daily practice. Violence happens in a culture of ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. Your relationship as co-facilitators is modelling so much to youth about relationships between men and women- two people sharing leadership and adults as mentors. Really this is a piece of gold that I am certain of after a decade.”
Thank you to each of you who reads our BLOGs at SWOVA. I offer the Check In to you from the warmth and beauty of Jamaica, May you have the opportunity to practice it with your own children, your spouse, a brother or sister, mother or father. Within it lies the strong roots of family and community health and well- being.
by Christina Antonick, R+R Trainer