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Whitehorse marks commemoration of 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre with vigil

Francis van Kessel, who sits on the board of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, speaks at a vigil Tuesday at the Yukon Legislative Assembly where the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women was marked. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)
Francis van Kessel, who sits on the board of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, speaks at a vigil Tuesday at the Yukon Legislative Assembly where the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women was marked. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)

It was a sombre gathering on Tuesday at the Yukon Legislative Assembly where the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women was marked.

The day commemorates the 14 women killed in the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.

People held vigils across the country Tuesday, including one in Whitehorse. Dozens gathered in the lobby of the Yukon legislative building shortly after noon.

This year's vigil was also dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in the Yukon, and women in Iran.

Attendees heard from several speakers, including Engineers Yukon president Kirsten Hogan. She said everyone has a role to play in ending gender-based violence.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

"I invite you think about the opportunities that you have every day to challenge some of those attitudes and beliefs that are out there, to challenge them in your homes, in your workplaces and in your social settings," Hogan said.

"I think this work ... probably takes generational change to accomplish and we're making slow steps. And I think each of us can help move it along the way."

Francis van Kessel, who sits on the board of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, said gender-based violence is "experienced at heartbreaking levels" in the community, and seems to have gotten worse.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated and deepened the pandemic of gender-based violence," Hogan said.

She said misogyny in Canada is "covert" and is "deeply baked into our systems."

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

"It shows up in our dress code for students, especially female students in the school. It shows up on our lower pay for equal work. It shows up as a care tax — women taking on burden of children and elder care," van Kessel said.

"It shows up as violence and more violence still against women, especially Black, Indigenous, Women of Colour, and to 2SLGBTQIA+ folks."

Vigil attendees also held a moment of silence.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

Sophia Ashley, the executive director of the Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre in Whitehorse, said for her, Tuesday is about remembering victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

She said fighting it happens on multiple fronts.

"Basic minimum income, and affordable housing, or the opioid crisis, sex [education] in schools — all of these things can seem quite disconnected but even if we make progress on one of these things, we would start to see a difference for victims and survivors and we'd start to see prevention," Ashley said.

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

Tracy-Anne McPhee also said a few words at the vigil, including recognizing the toll COVID-19 lockdowns took on gender-based violence.

"During the most difficult times of the pandemic, people in situations of intimate partner violence were forced into isolation, often with their abusive partners. Home was not always a safe place. Of course, the children were also impacted and we may see long term effects effects," she said.

"I stand here today not only in honour of those 14 women [who died in the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre], but also to recognize the hundreds and thousands of women across the country who have experienced and continue to experience gender-based violence."