It was a day of reflection and remembrance at the Nova Scotia Community College earlier this month as students, staff and guests remembered the 14 women who were killed in the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989.
The ceremony had three guest speakers on a number of different aspects of violence against women. Donna Smith, executive director of Tearmann House, was the first speaker to take the mic.
“I think violence against women is a community issue because it affects everyone,” said Smith. She spoke more about intimate partner violence, which is primarily what Tearmann Society deals with as a place that women facing violence can go to for help.
“There is no time that is a good time or a bad time to leave that relationship,” she said. Smith spoke about the courage that it takes to leave or distance yourself from a physically or mentally abusive relationship. She shared a story about an 80-year-old woman who had endured years of abuse before she left her partner and decided to live the rest of her life free of abuse.
Smith spoke about how some groups are also more likely to be victims of abuse than others, such as those in the African Canadian, indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities as well as other minorities.
“No one should have to live with or experience violence,” said Smith.
Bob Whitman, formerly of New Leaf, a resource to help men who have been abusive toward their partner/ex-partner and/or children, shared with the audience a turning point in his life. Working at Camp Hill hospital in Halifax he lived in a house with a number of young men. When he got home one night, he found the men in the house passing around a girl, essentially sexually abusing her, one after the other. Whitman shared that he was asked if he wanted a turn. So he took the girl to his room and told her to lie down on the bed and rest. As he was standing there letting the girl rest in his bed by herself someone shouted in to him, “Bob are you almost done with her? Someone else wants her.”
This moment in time changed Whitman’s life and he eventually went on to lead New Leaf and help abusers. Consent is something, he said, that needs to be more of a discussion as some people who are accused of assault now say they thought they had consent. Whitman added that a conversation that also needs to be had is what consent can look like.
“We need to find the spaces to have those conversations,” he said.
Local activist and social worker Dawn Peters offered an observation of a women’s perspective and an observation on the realities of gender-based violence.
“Noticing, expecting more, speaking up, enacting change. This is how we directly begin to affect change,” she said. Peters spoke about some of her experiences directing a play as well as other things she has heard or talked about as a feminist.
The ceremony ended with three students lighting candles of remembrance for victims of gender-based violence.
Rebecca MacDonald lights a candle of remembrance at the Day of Remembrance ceremony at NSCC. (Brimicombe photo)