Julie Lalonde: Why Aren’t We Taking to the Streets for Canadian Women and Girls?

As an educator and advocate for women who have experienced violence, I see the impact of our U.S.-centrism every day

A photo of Canadian women at the Washington Women's March with signs that say "Sisters of the North"

The day after Ivanka’s dad got elected, I emceed a fundraising event in Ottawa for an organization working to improve women’s rights and damn, talk about a tough crowd. The vibe was less, “Yay! Let’s raise money to support women’s organizing!” and more, “Funeral after a sudden death.” Let’s just say I wish I’d swapped my bright pink blazer for a black veil and gloves.

Feminist sadness quickly turned into rage and soon, thousands of women across Canada took to the streets to participate in solidarity Women’s Marches. From Pender Island, B.C. to Whitehorse to Truro, N.S., women were pissed—and they had knitted angry hats to prove it.

I was delighted to see all the cheeky signs  and moved by the sight of so many new activists, young and old, resisting misogyny at Canadian marches in 2017 and 2018. But something felt… off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but then, on April 23, 2018, a man drove a van through the streets of Toronto and it became abundantly clear.

Although we’re still awaiting final confirmation from police, all signs point to someone motivated by a deep, deep hatred of women. Eerily similar to the attack at L’École Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989, what is now known as the Toronto van attack (which killed 10 people, eight of whom were women) rattled the city of Toronto and feminist activists, but it did little to stir the Canadian feminist movement as a whole.

Neither did acquittals in the murder trials of Cindy Gladue and Tina Fontaine; two young, bright, loved Indigenous women. In both cases, white men stood trial for murder and in both cases, justice was not served.

As an educator and an advocate for women who have experienced violence, I see the impact of our U.S.-centrism every day. We can tell you where we were when we watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify about being assaulted by Justice Kavanaugh, but few of us know about the horrors of Justice Robin Camp. We tweeted and railed against Brock Turner but have no idea who Derrick Gallagher is.

This year in Canada, 130 women and girls have been killed by men. The youngest victim was three weeks old.

We weren’t in the streets for that news either.

I’m not arguing for our empathy to end at the border. What is going on in the U.S. is awful and it absolutely impacts us here in Canada.

But what message are we sending Canadian women and girls when we aren’t willing to take to the streets for them like we are for our sisters in the south? Why do we see thousands of Canadians actively protesting an American election and so few folks out at yearly Sisters in Spirit vigils, which honour the lives of Canada’s MMIWG? What message are we sending perpetrators and their enablers when we respond to horrific misogynist, racist violence with just a few tweets and grumbles?

There is a long history of activism and resistance in this country, from the Abortion Caravan protesting the criminalization of abortion in the ’70s to Indigenous communities resisting land theft at Oka in the ’90s to The Miss G Project, which combined humour and hard facts to get gender studies into the Ontario high school curriculum in 2013. Not to mention the world-renowned Raging Grannies, who have sung (delightfully off-key) protest songs at every major Canadian protest since the late ’80s.

Historically, we’ve shown ourselves willing to put words into action and get shit done. And 2018 has given us plenty of heartbreaking reminders that the work of creating a just and equitable Canada is not over.

So what are we waiting for?


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