Although a traditional in-person vigil is impossible this year, Brandon University and the BU Status of Women Review Committee is again partnering with the YWCA and the Women’s Resource Centre on ways for people to honour the Dec. 6 National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
Every Dec. 6, the country pauses to remember the 14 women who lost their lives in a mass shooting at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989. This year’s Day will feature online graphics and a digital moment of silence, when everyone is asked to set aside time for reflection and to avoid online commitments.
“Our annual Dec. 6 vigil is a powerful event, bringing people together to remember tragedies and to honour loss, but also to recommit to ending gender-based violence,” said Candice Waddell, chair of SWRC and an assistant professor at BU. “We have to mark the occasion differently this year, and although we won’t be together in person, we will still be together in spirit, and in cause.”
Through the Status of Women Review Committee, BU is offering a downloadable Zoom background for people to use. The background lists the names of the 14 women who lost their lives at l’École Polytechnique: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.
Although people are spending more time than ever on video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, Waddell said that hosting a virtual event didn’t seem like the right approach.
“In fact, we are doing the opposite,” she said. “Instead of yet more time spent staring into your screen, we are asking you to turn off and commit instead to quiet reflection. That means no emails, no social media, and no video conferencing. A quiet time for you to collect your thoughts.”
The digital moment of silence is set for 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4, a time chosen to minimize impact on classes. It is suggested that you pause for at least 15 minutes: one minute for each victim of the l’École Polytechnique massacre, plus one minute for wider reflection on a future without gender-based violence.
“This is an important day for us all to acknowledge,” said BU President David Docherty. “We must continue our efforts to end gender-based violence in all its forms, and to continue our work towards equity.”
Although the Day of Remembrance and Action was sparked by one particular event, gender-based violence continues to be a widespread concern, from intimate partner violence to the Toronto van-ramming attack.
The need is acute in Brandon and southwestern Manitoba, said Heather Symbalisty, Executive Director at the YWCA of Brandon.
“Isolation, lack of transportation, job loss and high stress levels add to already strained relationships which has the potential to put a life at further risk — especially during Covid,” she said. “Fear, stress, anger and other emotions are pushing individuals to a point they have never experienced before.”
Of particular concern are areas with limited internet or cell phone service, and Symbalisty said that the YWCA of Brandon is working to make sure that everyone knows they offer 24/7 services.
“Covid has also put a strain on our work force. Our counsellors and support workers are feeling the exhaustion from the extra cleaning and restrictions that continually change,” she added. “At this time, we have no back up employees to help provide coverage if we need to fill shifts due to illness or time off. Each day is bringing new challenges.”
Resources, including the downloadable Zoom background and support information, can be found on the BU Status of Women Review Committee webpage at BrandonU.ca/SWRC.
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