Unifor Local 444 members call for end to violence against women

Dozens gathered outside the Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant to remember the life of Marylou Hyjek and call for an end to violence against women on the 28th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal massacre.

Hiatus House working to help men who hurt women

Dozens gathered at a memorial to Marylou Hyjek outside the Windsor Chrysler Assembly Plant on Dec. 6 to call for an end to violence against women. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Twenty years have passed since Marylou Hyjek was killed by her husband. As a crowd gathered at her memorial stone outside the Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant Wednesday, Al Lewenza shared a a simple message — "This has got to stop."

Lewenza, Hyjek's first husband, along with dozens of others, was remembering her life and calling for an end to violence against women on the 28th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal massacre that left 14 women dead.

The couple had a daughter together who was just 17 when Hyjek was killed, and Lewenza said the family is still struggling to come to grips with what happened.

"It was traumatic," he explained. "It was unbelievable to see what my daughter was going through and what she's still going through."

People lay white roses at the memorial to Marylou. The Chrysler Plant 6 worker was killed by her husband in 1998. (Jason Viau/CBC)

The annual ceremony hosted by Unifor Local 444 is held every Dec. 6, on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Union president James Stewart said, in a way, it's sad the event has been held for so many years.

"A woman today still thinks twice about walking down a dark, lonely street by herself, and that's something most men don't experience," he said. "When you think about that you can understand the importance of not just remembering the 14 women who were killed that day, but recognizing we haven't fixed the problem 28 years since that."

White roses and a stuffed dog rest on top of the memorial to Marylou Hyjek Wednesday. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Jessica Haskett joined the crowd at the memorial Wednesday and said while she has seen some positive changes for women in recent years, there's still a long way to go.

"Today means that there's a lot of improvement that needs to be made for women against violence in our community," she explained. "This is just to shed some light and hope for improvement."

A 'Man's issue'

Stewart described violence against women as a "man's issue" and said without men helping to change the systematic issues facing women the violence won't stop.

"Shame on us as men," he added.

At Windsor's Hiatus House for families fleeing domestic violence, Thom Rolfe and his team have been working with men for years to help stop abuse.

The organization's Fresh Start program has run for decades and is currently made up of a small group of men who sign individual contracts to stop hurting the women in their life and to change for the better.

Thom Rolfe, executive director of Hiatus House, said the organization's Fresh Start program is aimed at working with men to stop abusing women. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

"Often times for a lot of the men there's been childhood trauma, whether it's childhood abuse for them or witnessing abuse, so it's about changing that," he explained.

But the program is expensive. An initial evaluation costs $200, along with weekly payments of $30. In a few months, Rolfe said Hiatus House plans to relaunch the program with hopes of generating enough interest to support opening it up to even more participants.

"Because we believe that people can make changes and because it is a decisional process it's important for us to support men who want to make those changes," he said.  "What we know over time is men who are serious about changing do come back and make that commitment."