Nunatsiaq News
COMMENTARY: Around the Arctic December 01, 2011 - 11:30 am

Reflecting on the lessons of Dec. 6, 1989

"Staying silent should not be an option"



Earlier this year, along with her family and community, the hospital staff who I work with were devastated to learn of the domestic murder of Sula Enuaraq and her two daughters.

Sula was a warm and generous spirit, and was a friend and colleague to us all.  She had worked at Qikiqtani Hospital as an educator and supporter of pregnant women and this year on Dec. 6, I will think first of Sula.

Most of us know how appallingly high the rates of domestic violence are in Nunavut, but we should not forget that gender-based violence happens everywhere in all cultures and across the socioeconomic spectrum. 

In December every year, I also remember my friend Dorothy Halton, who was a family doctor and was strangled to death by her boyfriend.

On Dec. 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered in Montreal because they were women.  They were engineering students, targeted because they had embarked on a professional path not traditionally open to women.

At the time, I was studying math at McGill and sharing a flat with women in chemistry and engineering. As the news hit the media, our phone rang relentlessly as family and friends called to share feelings of grief and ensure our safety.

I wish I could say I remembered all their names – but I don’t. To me, the 14 who were felled, were nameless and faceless but absolutely female. Their killing was the most monumental example of gendered violence most of us have ever experienced on Canadian soil.

We have not seen such a massive killing since, but every year about 70 women are killed in Canada and many more live in pain and in fear.

Each of us should ask ourselves what we can do to support the women we know who are living in violent relationships. This also means supporting men, and helping our boys to grow into confident, capable supportive partners.

Like being skilled at recognizing and helping people at risk of suicide, there are things that can be done to decrease the chances of abuse escalating and to help women either leave or survive violent relationships.  Staying silent should not be an option.

We all need to envision a positive future for Nunavut if we want to get there: a place where women and men have equal respectful partnerships; where children grow up in safe homes, well loved and well educated; and where opportunities abound for meaningful lives and happiness.

In memory of Sula, the physician group at QGH wanted to do something positive and have chosen to direct a donation to an educational fund that has been developed in support of Inuit who choose to go into a career in medicine.  Our donation is going to join a fund that has been created by the doctors at The Ottawa Hospital for this purpose and has already generated twenty thousand dollars.

At the 40th anniversary celebrations of ITK last month, both leaders and youth emphasized education as the way forward in building happy successful communities. It is going to be an overdue reality in the near future that Inuit are working as physicians in Canada.  Believe it!

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