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PatSanagan 560During the 2016 vigil, CFUW Southport’s Pat Sanagan offered some startling statistics to the record crowd in Coulter Parkette.

Hub Staff

Sonia Pelletier was a day away from graduating and had a job lined up the following week. Instead, the 28-year-old mechanical engineering student was gunned down 28 years ago simply because she was a woman.

Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz, a 30-year-old Polish immigrant, was found dead on the cafeteria floor of Montreal's École Polytechnique, ending her dream of living in a safe country.

These are the stories of two of the 14 women who were killed by a lone gunman on December 6, 1989.

The 14 women ranged in age from 20 to 30. In a Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Southport media release, if their lives had not been cut short, today they would have been women in their late 40s and 50s, women who probably would have pursued careers, become mothers and perhaps community leaders.

On Wednesday, December 6 CFUW Southport will be holding a vigil to remember these 14 women and other female victims of violence, as they have done every year since 1990, with last year’s event drawing a crowd of over 100.

See: Vigil draws record crowd

On November 27 CFUW Southport member Pat Sanagan appeared before Saugeen Shores Council.

“Each year I think when I come here that maybe this will be the year that I bring good news in the reduction of violence against women; and yet this year it seems worse than ever,” said Sanagan.

“An inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has begun,” she said, adding that due to issues and concerns around families not being heard and victims not being honoured, the inquiry has had to ask for more time and resources to deal with systemic issues in policing and child welfare.

Sanagan then cited a series of Globe and Mail articles by Robyn Doolittle that investigated an “alarming number” of sexual assault cases in Canada deemed unfounded “meaning they are baseless and do not go onto prosecution,” explained Sanagan. As a result, more than 50 police services from across Canada have launched or are launching audits of sexual assault cases.

“In Ontario, [OPP] officers who investigate sexual assault will soon receive new training, more superivsion, additional resources, and, maybe most importantly, external scrutiny from local victim support groups,” said Sanagan, going on to say that according to a recent survey, women were just as likely to be sexually assault in 2014 as they were in 2004, but “they were just as unlikely, and perhaps more unlikely, to report the incident to police.”

Then Sanagan moved onto the “litany” of male celebrities and power brokers being accused of sexual assault and sexual harrassment. “The hashtag #metoo has become a powerful tool for women to come forward, and we have done so from all ages and cultures to say sexual harassment or assault has happened to ‘me too,’” said Sanagan.

Sanagan said that according to health promotion research, three things are needed in order to change behaviour.

First increasing awareness, something CFUW is hoping to do through the December 6 vigil and through events such as their October speaker who addressed human trafficking, the victims of which are most often women.

See: CFUW speaker tackles the subject of human trafficking

Second, design and deliver effective policies, examples of which, Sanaga said, can be found in the Canadian government’s “strategy to prevent and address gender based violence” as well as “a concentrated effort within work places and on campuses to address their policies on responding to harrassment and assault claims.”

She continued. “The final strategy is to address and help change attitudes and social values that either oppress women or support misconduct.”

Sanagan said that following the #metoo campaign, a second campaign, #howiwillchange, began on social media to address “behaviours that can be intimidating or harassing or even assaultive and looking at ways to change those behaviours,” she said.

In her presentation, Sanagan included two tweets, one of which was from @inj4ll and read: I will confront anyone who make sexist statement about women even as silly jokes.

In closing, Sanagan extended an invitation to members of Council. “Please join us to remember the 14 women we lost in 1989, the thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and the women who live with sexual harassment, assault and other forms of violence every day and join us to say this must change.”

The vigil is set to take place at noon on December 6 in Coulter Parkette, downtown Port Elgin.

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