Nevertheless, they persist

barefoot-beach-blonde-hair-1116613It’s been a while since I checked in. We’ve moved back into the cottage, planted the garden, dusted off the furniture, replenished the cupboards and can’t wait for company. I love this place. But politics, as usual, intrudes — even in this summer resort on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.

Our council fired the fire chief, whose squad is standing behind him. There are ridiculous rumours of sabotage of the water treatment plant as an invasion of zebra mussels clogs pipes and litters the beaches. Another fractious election looms.

One province over, it’s anybody-but-Doug-Ford, unless you’re a Postmedia publication. Don’t get me started on the nutty old man running the circus down south. And as someone who has worked in Edmonton and Victoria, I’m torn by the pipeline debate, knowing how desperately much it matters on both sides of that border. (But I laughed at Maclean’s Paul Wells’ quip on Twitter: “Weird week. Suddenly I own a pipeline and I can’t afford mayonnaise.”)


Meanwhile, the Canadian Femicide Observatory continues to quietly, grimly, inexorably do its job, counting the number of women killed in Canada. The number goes up every second day. Today they cite 70 women and girls killed since January.*

I’ve written about this group before; it’s a game-changer for those in the domestic-violence trenches. We’ve never had these kinds of statistics before; as a society we’ve refused to acknowledge femicides as anything but aberrations, crimes of “passion,” random acts of violence.

We can do that no longer. The observatory, which launched just before this year began, is keeping track of each femicide in this country, and its Twitter feed is a wake-up call, a voice for those who no longer have a voice, a grim reminder that violence against women continues.

It calls for more transparency from police forces who are inexplicably beginning to refuse to release homicide victim’s names. It links to news stories on femicides, often with brutally similar lead-ups. It offers unsolicited advice like this:

Media tip: Media often refer to male jealousy to explain men who kill female partners/ex-partners. Terms used are ‘love gone wrong’, ‘from love to murder’, ‘crime of passion’. It’s a crime, but it’s not passion or love.


It is showing us what we suspected for years — that more women are being killed than ever before recorded.

My stats when I wrote Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists were a vague “every five and a half days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner.” So far, in 2018, the observatory has recorded a death every second day. And we’re not halfway through the year.

Feminists in this country and elsewhere need to support and amplify this ground-breaking initiative’s work. It’s a reality check for us all — even those trying to bury their heads in the sands of summer.

Follow them at @CAN_Femicide

*This statistic was earlier posted on their website as “at least 57.” It is now at 70. At the end of June, the observatory will post a six-month list.

A huge step in the right direction

As powerful as they are, no social media campaign will ever save a woman trapped in an abusive relationship. Battered women facing escalating violence in the home do not, dare not share their stories online.

But a new and comparable media-savvy force has emerged to speak for those who have no voice.

It’s the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, based out of the University of Guelph’s Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence. 

After decades of inaction on violence against women in Canada, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

The project has begun counting femicides across the country for the first time ever, and tracking each case as it proceeds through our courts and the media. How many women are killed every year? What were the warning signs? How did the community respond? Who are these people?

It will focus our attention on a problem Canadians seem to think long-solved, ‘fixed’ by a string of women’s shelters dating back to the early 1970s. But those shelters continue to be built and filled. They’ve become part of our landscape, numbering more than 625. And still, about every five or six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner.

We don’t know how many because we’ve never conducted a national count. 

For some reason these crimes have always been treated as random tragedies, spontaneous crimes of passion. Unpreventable.

That’s not what those on the front lines of domestic violence believe. They know that femicides are most often the tip of an iceberg, the tragic end result of prolonged violence in the home. 

Sgt. Dave Dunbar of Hamilton’s domestic violence unit told the Globe and Mail recently that they get 18 calls a day. And Dunbar warns his officers not to dismiss even those calls that seem innocuous. Because what may begin as a ‘harmless’ verbal dispute often turns into something more toxic, more violent.

“I can tell you right now that there is always an escalation,” Dunbar said.

For every woman who ends up dead, countless more are abused every day. Professor Myrna Dawson, the spokeswoman for this ground-breaking project, says its ultimate goal is to find a way to prevent the killings from happening; to stop the violence before it becomes fatal.

“The reality is these are not disputes,” Dawson told the Globe. “Intimate femicides rarely occur out of the blue.”

That’s why putting numbers, and faces, to this issue, is so critical.

The founders of Canada’s first women’s shelters learned this lesson long ago. Back in the early ‘70s — when almost no one believed we needed shelters at all — there were no statistics on violence against women. It was a personal shame, a private affair between a husband and his wife. Police didn’t track assaults according to gender, and were loath to intervene. It wasn’t their business. 

If a woman chose to leave an abusive partner, she and her children had nowhere to go. 

So they stayed. And some died.

Faced with such ignorance and complacency, the first shelter founders pulled statistics together as best they could, keeping track of the women they helped, and widely sharing what they knew. Their data, meagre as it was, fuelled a remarkable series of changes.

Governments started funding shelters and rape-crisis centres; rewriting property and marital laws; creating laws to deal with criminal harassment. Police and courts changed how they operated. There was widespread public awareness, and reason to hope that change was coming.

Unfortunately, a 1993 Stats Can survey was the first and last of its kind. No more attempts were made to measure the problem on a national scale, and it dropped off our radar. 

And if you don’t measure a problem, if you can’t clearly delineate a problem, then you have no problem. Problem solved.

The issue itself was neutered. Politicians started calling it “family” violence and “domestic abuse,” effectively killing any need for uncomfortable conversations about male behaviour.

And so ended our public conversation, briefly rallying once a year on the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. 

Which is why this new project offers such hope.

For the first time in our history, we are counting, coalescing and combing through what to date have been treated as disparate and isolated events.

Just as the #MeToo movement exposes how commonplace sexual misconduct is in our society, so, too, will the femicide project change the way we look at male violence against women. The collective weight of these womens’ stories promises to challenge attitudes and shine new light on a very old issue.

Make no mistake; this is a game-changer. Follow this project on Twitter at @CAN_Femicide

It won’t save the lives of those it studies. But it may well save the lives of those who follow.