Dec. 7, 2021

Montreal Massacre victims remembered at virtual UCalgary ceremony

Calls for action continue amidst 'shadow pandemic' of COVID-19

At the age of 14, Deanna Burgart made a promise to herself.

After hearing the news on Dec. 6, 1989, that 14 women had been murdered at Montreal’s L’Ecole Polytechnique, she wanted to become “a voice for whomever couldn’t find their own.”

On the 32nd anniversary of that horrific day, Burgart stood at the podium to offer that voice as one of the keynote speakers at the University of Calgary’s ceremony to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

“I remember hearing that these women were killed because they wanted to be engineers and nurses,” Burgart said in her speech. “They were killed because they wanted a seat at the table in STEM.”

Becoming a voice for change

Burgart, now a senior instructor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, recalls the day well:

It is truly one of those days for me where I remember exactly where I was. I was in junior high and could not believe these women were targeted simply because of their gender.

Burgart recalls the feeling of fear she had, yet it also sparked a deep desire to be a part of change going forward.

“Over the years, my focus went from creating safer, more welcoming spaces for women to raising awareness on gender violence for all genders and intersectional identities,” Burgart, who is also teaching chair of integrated Indigenous knowledge in engineering, said before the ceremony. “Then I learned exactly how intersectionality can play a part in inequitable recognition and action on gender violence.”

The 'shadow pandemic'

Conversations and demands for action on gender-based violence have also made headlines over the past two years in a new, urgent context as it’s been dubbed the “shadow pandemic of COVID-19” by the United Nations, due to many people being left vulnerable while abiding by public health measures.

“Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that we are taking the steps to break the cycle of violence and bring about meaningful change through education, dialogue and intervention,” said Dr. Teri Balser, UCalgary’s provost and vice-president. “Days like today and moments like now are critical in making that happen.”

Balser, who was also a keynote speaker during this year’s ceremony, is encouraged by what’s going on at UCalgary, including a policy on gender-based violence. However, she adds, more needs to be done here and as a society.

“Ending this violence must be more than a goal,” Balser said. “We need to make it a reality.”

Keeping the conversation going

In Burgart’s eyes, Dec. 6 is just one day on the calendar.

“I’m still learning and working to be a positive voice and ally for change in all spaces where gender violence is an issue,” she says. “We need to talk about this year-round, and give space and voice to all marginalized people who face gender-based violence and discrimination.”

Among the campaigns launched to keep the conversation going is 16 Days of Activism. It uses the days between the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women (Nov. 25) and International Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) to reinforce that violence against women, girls, gender non-binary people and the LGBTQ2S+ community is a human-rights violation.

Every year, UCalgary’s Women’s Resource Centre adopts the 16 Days of Activism campaign to focus on gender-based violence, and what individuals can do to prevent it.

The Centre will be selling handmade beeswax candles to help fund vital programming to end gender-based violence, and is also hosting REAL Talk with Sagesse on Dec. 7 (Sagesse being a domestic violence-prevention society) to help people understand and talk about domestic violence.