Nfld. & Labrador

Recent killings of 3 women loom over vigil remembering Montreal Massacre

The memory of three female homicide victims was fresh on Wednesday night, as a ceremony at Memorial University remembered the École Polytechnique killings.

Dec. 6 marked as National Day for Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

Fourteen candles mark the deaths of 14 women in the Montreal Massacre of 1989. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Fourteen roses. Fourteen candles. Fourteen names.

A sombre procession of 14 people made it down the aisle of an auditorium at Memorial University on Wednesday night, commemorating the women murdered in a massacre at Montreal's École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989.

Despite the tragedy being decades old, the message was raw for many of the people in attendance.

"The rate at which women and girls experience violence in our province, and across this country, is much too high," said Siobhan Coady, speaking as the provincial minister responsible for the status of women. 

"This must stop."

The date is marked as the National Day for Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Wednesday's vigil featured three female speakers — Coady, MUN provost Noreen Golfman and provincial labour federation leader Mary Shortall.

Minister Siobhan Coady speaks during a vigil remembering the 14 women killed at École Polytechnique in 1989. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

While the trio spoke on behalf of their organizations, they also spoke as themselves — feminists, leaders and women.

In the audience, several people wore shirts with Cortney Lake's face on the front. The 24-year-old mother of one has been missing since June 7, believed to have been killed by her ex-boyfriend.

Then there is Ryanna Grywacheski, the Saskatchewan-born woman killed at the hands of her boyfriend in Marystown in September.

And most recently, Victoria Head — a mother of one found dead in a St. John's field three weeks ago. Police have gone silent since ruling her death a homicide. Her killer remains at large.

Cortney Lake, Ryanna Grywacheski and Victoria Head have each been killed since June. (Cortney Lake/Facebook, Ryanna Grywacheski/Facebook, Victoria Head/Facebook)

Their killings, mixed with several other cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, have ignited the conversation provincewide in 2017.

With it lingering in the atmosphere on Wednesday night, Golfman reflected on the 14 women killed by an anti-feminist murderer at an engineering school.

"It could have happened anywhere," she said, as the women's faces were front and centre on a projection screen. "It could have happened here, in this engineering building, in this theatre."

'Progress, it appears, is hard-won'

There has been positive change, Golfman said, but it hasn't come easy.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, 67 names have been added to a list of missing and murdered women since the massacre at École Polytechnique.

But then there's moments like the #MeToo campaign. Or the flood of firings in recent weeks for powerful men accused of sexual assault and harassment.

"Progress, it appears, is hard-won," Golfman said. "But perhaps we are starting to feel at this moment, in 2017, that something is happening. That we might be getting somewhere."

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, says she will always fight to end gender-based violence. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

During the vigil, a graduate student read aloud the names of the 14 women. The auditorium then fell quiet for a moment of silence.

After reflecting on the lives lost in Montreal, Shortall said she will never stop pushing for positive change. She will use her anger, her frustration and her platform to work towards an end to gender-based violence.

"Let's do it for the 14 women who dreamt of being leaders," she said. 

"Let's do it for Cortney, for Ryanna, Victoria and the more than 100 violently murdered women in Newfoundland and Labrador."


Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.