We mourn the tragic mass murders that happened in Nova Scotia. This loss of 22 lives, as well as the impact on those who were injured on April 18 and 19, is difficult to contemplate. Of course, its impacts are reverberating across families, communities, and regions.
As more information is released, themes of this case seem to echo themes of other massacres in the past. The particulars of every situation are unique, but there is an undeniable thread that runs through many of the mass murders that have occurred in Canada: they are often connected to domestic and gender-based violence and misogyny.
The Nova Scotia shootings started with a violent episode against a woman. Think of the other cases we’re reminded of: the Montreal Massacre on December 6, 1989; the Toronto van attack on April 23, 2018; and the shooting of eight people in Edmonton on December 29, 2014, to name a few. Many were marked and motivated by abuse and hatred of women.
To put it plainly: men who harm women in their lives, who hate women they know and don’t know and carry sexist attitudes around with them, are dangerous to all of us.
For years, advocates have debunked the myth that incidents of gendered violence are “between him and her.” They’ve done it to break silence and encourage us to treat abuse behind closed doors as seriously as we treat abuse in public. They’ve also done it to underscore that our sexist behaviours and attitudes, those we internalize as individuals and manifest in the communities in which we live, have real consequences. Right up to injury and loss of life.
Mass killings are a rarity. But murder of women by their intimate partners is not: it happens every six days in Canada on average. Sexual harassment and assault, emotional and physical partner violence, and disrespect and abuse of women in digital and real-life spaces are also common occurrences. Given the fact that mass murder and gender-based violence are so interconnected, it stands to reason that eliminating the more common forms of gender-based violence and the sexism they are rooted in will also help prevent mass murder.
It’s similar for acts of violence and mass murders motivated by racism, xenophobia, heterosexism, and the like. Acting to reduce the more common expressions of these forms of discrimination will help reduce the most extreme expressions.
There are many details to unpack in each case of mass killings. It’s perfectly valid to examine them from different lenses, for instance, from psychological, sociological, or health perspectives. Each will uncover unique considerations and nuances. But analyzing these cases for the sake of analysis only gets us so far. What interventions will actually help end mass murders in Canada? Here are a few.
1. Significant investment in gender-based prevention efforts that address this pervasive problem in families, neighbourhoods, workplaces, and our society at large, all couched within a National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence. This violence is a big social problem. It requires big, transformative solutions.
2. Along with prevention, our country needs to fund interventions on gender-based violence to meet the scope of the true need. Violence interventions like shelters and crisis lines have been sorely underfunded for years. Sexual assault support services, for instance, continue to be swamped with requests and are not equipped to respond to the full need. In addition to helping those who are victimized, we also need to have excellent interventions like programs for young witnesses of violence and programs to help abusers stop abusing people.
3. Robust gun control to reduce access to guns. The fact is that countries with more guns have more gun deaths, and rates of murder in domestic violence incidents increase when there’s a firearm in the home. As the Coalition for Gun Control says, a national ban on handgun and assault weapons is necessary, and “evidence is strong worldwide that industrialized countries with strong laws are safer from gun violence.”
4. Ongoing commitment to apply an intersectional gender analysis and human rights lens in governance and policy making. What is the point of governance and policy if they don’t work to make vulnerable people less vulnerable? When applied right, this lens will help make equality we have on paper come alive in lived equity. For women, it would necessarily lead to governmental focus on affordable childcare, safe housing, closing the gender pay gap, and more.
The Facts about Gender-Based Violence
The Facts about Online Hate and Cyberviolence Against Women and Girls in Canada
Remembering Lives Cut Short: 30th Anniversary of Montreal Massacre
Gun Violence Against Women and Girls is Preventable
It makes me immeasurably sad. Why does society continue to turn a blind eye to our cultural attitudes behind this incredible harm to women and girls?