27 years after the Montreal Massacre, misogynist violence remains a norm

A memorial plaque at Ecole Polytechnique, remembering the victims of the Montreal Massacre.
A memorial plaque at Ecole Polytechnique, remembering the victims of the Montreal Massacre.

Every day people express “shock” when yet another man kills his wife, girlfriend, ex-partner, or child. These male perpetrators are always good guys, good fathers, good doctors, good sons. How could things possibly have come to this?

After news broke that a prominent Toronto neurosurgeon had been charged with his wife’s murder, just a week after she had filed for divorce, we heard similar refrains:

“Imagine the nicest person in your workplace, and then, say, that person has been accused of killing their spouse,” said Derek Smith, a Toronto lawyer who had seen Mohammed Shamji as a patient. Smith added, “He is nice to his assistants, he is nice to the residents he has with him, he is nice to nurse practitioners.”

Toronto resident Joe Grossman told the CBC that he is in “utter shock and disbelief” regarding the allegations against Shamji:

“This doesn’t make sense on any level. This is a man to whom I literally owe my life and a man who I truly believed was a hero.”

Of Shamji’s victim, Elana Fric-Shamji, Larry Erlick, the head of family medicine at The Scarborough Hospital where Dr. Fric-Shamji had worked, said:

“She confided a lot in me… I don’t want to say a lot. There were issues … No one ever expects anything like this.”

Erlick told The Globe and Mail, “He knew that despite her positive personality, there was trouble in her life.”

Like so many other relationships that end in femicide, the couple’s public persona was said to be “at odds” with the “tragedy” that occurred. Men’s public proclamations of love and awe on social media seem to mystify society when it turns out that a seemingly different man exists behind closed doors.

The CBC noted, “Just last week, Shamji, a 40-year-old Toronto neurosurgeon, tweeted support for his wife’s work with the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).”

A friend of the couple, Mike Sullivan, called Shamji an “incredibly smart” and “terrific guy.” He told the media, “I joked many times with my wife saying I wished we had the kind of marriage they had, the kind of relationship they had, the way that they looked at each other.”

Nonetheless, on Thursday, Fric-Shamji’s body was found in a suitcase near an underpass in Vaughan, Ontario. She died, media reports say, from strangulation and blunt-force trauma.

In August, a woman named Megan Short was killed by her husband the day she planned to leave him. Mark Short had similarly engaged in over-the-top public proclamations of love online. Media quoted those who knew Mark confirming he was a “good guy.” On August 6, Short’s planned moving day, she, her three children, and their dog were shot to death by this “good guy.”

The Reading Eagle reported, “On Facebook, Mark and Megan shared dozens of photos of their children with friends and family. Mark’s cover photo is a side-by-side with his wife.” Mark had written, “She’s still the most beautiful girl that I’ve ever met” in a comment on the picture. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her as my wife and the mother of my three amazing children!”

Last December, Robert Giblin stabbed his pregnant partner, Precious Charbonneau, seven times before throwing her off a balcony. The media reported this as a mysterious “21-storey fall,” adding that Giblin similarly “fell” to his death shortly thereafter.

Giblin had, like all these other men who kill their partners, posted public proof of their “love” online. “The two… wrote open love messages to each other on Facebook over the past several months,” the National Post reported, noting also that the two had recently married, and that Giblin had “posted a photograph of the pair cuddling around 1:18 a.m. on Sunday, about 17 hours before police were called.”

Giblin wrote ““Happiness is” in a caption of the photograph.

While some media coverage discussed the possibility that Giblin suffered from PTSD, none dared print the words, “domestic abuse” or “male violence against women.” No one asked any of the obvious questions, as Elizabeth Sheehy points out:

“No digging by news media into the research that tells us his partner’s pregnancy is frequently the trigger for a man to begin assaulting his partner. Nor the data about the escalation of male violence in the holiday season. No questions either: was she leaving him? Was there a real or imagined rival? We know that the vast majority of intimate femicides are committed by men motivated by sexual jealousy or the prospect of separation. What role did her race play in the power dynamics of this relationship? Their age difference is recognized as a risk factor for intimate femicide. So, too, is coercive control — did he engage in this behavior? Social isolation is also a significant warning sign: Was she as isolated as the threadbare reporting would suggest?”

Because 27 years ago a man walked into a classroom at École Polytechnique in Montreal, separated the women from the men, and shot 14 women dead, today is The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Yet we as a society insist on suffering from collective amnesia.

“How could this all happen?” Sullivan asked about his friends.

Is there ever a time we don’t ask this question in light of yet another incident of male violence?

Every year in the U.S. 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by their partners. One out of three of all female homicide victims is killed by her current or former partner. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury in women. Men are the biggest danger women face. Yet we still aren’t asking obvious questions, we still aren’t talking about domestic abuse, and we still are refusing to name misogyny for what it is.

Last month, a Toronto activist was charged with domestic assault. Considered a friend and ally by many in the Canadian progressive scene, the community fell largely silent. So silent that a few people took note — but silence won the battle and Andray Domise, the man who was charged, was protected by his peers.

Constant lip-service is offered to systemic violence and oppression by the very same people who don’t count men’s violence against women as class-based or systemic. To the left, sexism is nothing more than an abstract idea whose main purpose is virtue signalling — a convenient opportunity to gain progressive credibility, but without ever having to take a risk or actually do anything to support women and oppose misogyny.

The left, despite its fondness for hashtags and self-righteousness, has a misogyny problem equally as significant as the right. Misogynist men are consistently not only given a pass but promoted and supported, while women who speak out, name the problem, and directly support female victims are vilified, ostracized, smeared, and silenced. Sympathy for abusive men is offered while victims are left behind.

Indeed, just last week the BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) supported a policy blacklisting Canada’s longest standing rape crisis centre, Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR). The BCFED 2016 Convention Report states:

“In response to issues raised repeatedly by union activists regarding an organization that is known to be trans* exclusionary, the HRC [Human Rights Committee] spearheaded the development of a policy stating that the BCFED will not donate to trans* exclusionary organizations, and that the Federation will encourage affiliates to adopt the same policy and donate their money elsewhere…”

In other words, the policy and those behind it expressly aim to defund VRR simply because they explicitly support female victims of male violence. BCFED did not approach or attempt to discuss this policy, which had been in the works for some time, with VRR, so collective members took it upon themselves to attempt to communicate their perspective, political analysis of male violence, and work to delegates, handing out leaflets and offering conversation on Tuesday, Novemeber 29th at the Convention.

The leaflet explains that women’s oppression exists as part of “a system in which men and women are born into a social order in which men rule over women.” The violence men perpetrate against women within that system is sexist violence, “perpetuated and accepted in our society because of that social order.” VRR explains that because the shelter operates on a peer counseling model, this means individuals are helping other individuals as equals and on the basis of common experience. They write:

“Our peer counseling is based on our shared life experience of being born female into the oppressed class, women, and subordinated our entire lives from girlhood into womanhood.”

Despite decades of allyship with the labour movement and with unions, BCFED targeted a group of women who have work tirelessly, day in and day out, helping women escape male violence, simply because VRR understands that women’s oppression is systemic.

In the late ’60s, the radical feminist movement began in response to a misogynistic left who not only refused to take women’s issues seriously, but who actively perpetuated sexism and sexist abuse. The New Left, as Shulamith Firestone declared, had “failed to live up to [their] rhetoric of revolution.”

Forty years later, we have not progressed. Women continue to be abused, raped, and killed by men who span the political spectrum. And society continues to feign shock: “How could this all happen?”

It happens because men’s violence is no fluke. It is not random. Women are not killed by men because they wear dresses and they are not raped because they are too passive. Women are found dead in suitcases, thrown off of balconies, shot in their homes and schools because we live in a world that says women are men’s possessions. And so long as we accept male entitlement to women’s bodies, so long as we turn the other cheek when our leftist “brothers” engage in sexist behaviour or abuse our sisters, so long as we attack women who name the problem instead of the men who are the problem, women will continue to die. This is a fact we cannot afford to hide from.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • fxduffy

    Home front or “intimate” violence is a centuries old horror and the numbers of dead or injured women is just one blatant sign of the underlying reality.

    Fear of leaving means that millions of women are locked up in marriages to men they secretly wish to divorce. They lose friends, children, relatives, co-workers, colleagues in both direct and indirect ways. And, of course, they lose contact with themselves. Fronting for the man has to take precedent over losing a family, losing friends, ending up in a hospital, or ending up dead.

    The fear is so palpable, and yet no one dares acknowledge it, let alone mention or act on it. Some relatives and friends guess it’s the case, but are hopelessly convinced that interference might intensify the dangers or the destruction taking place in front of them.

    (Some of the male perpetrators look the part, but most don’t because they are hidden by the camouflage of male hegemonic power and thus belong securely the natural order of things).

    Not too long ago, as I walked up 5th Ave to a appointment with my acupuncturist, a forty year old Black woman, I walked past a large police action outside an office building. I went on to my visit only to find out that my acupuncturist wasn’t available. Another took her place, but before I left the office, I learned two tragic things: My acupuncturist had been murdered by her male partner; and the large police response was to a multiple shooting by an irate husband, who had shot his wife and three of her female co-workers (I learned later that one worker survived, the other three victims died) I also later learned that divorce was in the cards for both wives. (Montreal in Manhattan)

    • Sabine

      Yep…nothing to see here…move along. THAT’S the shocking part, not that these murders are happening on a regular basis and are very clearly misogynistic in nature. The flat-out denial is what’s unbelievable, not that yet again, yet another woman has been slain by yet another husband/partner/ex. How can that be shocking for the multi-millionth time?!!!

  • DSQL

    VRR are in their current situation – precisely because – they were indeed, “trans inclusive”, two decades ago, well before it was ‘trendy’. VRR were definitely vanguard in this respect. And INCLUSIVE!!!! FFS, they were one of the very few women’s support organisations that actually were inclusive!

    How it all went pear-shaped, was because VRR insisted applying the SAME rules to an M2T, that they do females, a two-year break between being a ‘client’ and applying for the training to become a support worker for the organisation. Nope, that was not good enough for “Kimberly” Nixon, who then set about a more than ten-year campaign to ruin the very organisation that helped him recover from his abuse. VRR ultimately won the various levels of court cases against them, but still the ‘smear’ and the abuse against the organisation continue to this very day (even when fundraising, in a park, they got harassed for being ‘transphobic’)

    This is what ‘you’ (any women’s group) gets for helping males in any way, shape or form. Don’t do it, you are far better of not ‘including’ them. Don’t bother with ‘male allies’, don’t bother being ‘trans inclusive’ – they will harass you regardless. Look at what Nixon did to VRR, very nearly closed them down. Because they helped him. Because he did not think the same rules applied to him, a male, as for the rules for females.

    Meanwhile, the male violence, denial of male violence, the (wtf is this) ‘shock’ at femicide after femicide continues – and no one (except feminists) want to join the dots. The world’s biggest crisis is male violence, in one form or another. So no, I don’t want to be ‘inclusive’ of the group causing all the problems.

    • VRR treats everyone who calls with respect, and will determine safety, strategize a safety plan, and, if they do not provide appropriate services, will refer. They do not have a “one year out of crisis” or out of their transition house, and as far as I know, never have. They do have the right, so far still state-sanctioned and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to determine their membership. Nixon was advised by Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) to hold off from joining their training group for a year after receiving counseling from them. That’s when he approached VRR. He did not meet, as Meghan wrote, the criteria of “born female and raised as a girl to her current womanhood”.

    • Lisa Tremblay

      I am also angry with BCFED’s decision to de-fund Vancouver Rape Relief. Feminist, lesbian and women’s groups have worked hard to create women only spaces where we can talk with each about our experiences of male domination, discrimination and violence. As long as patriarchy continues, these spaces should be protected.
      However, I think it’s disrespectful of us to use “him” when referring to a transgendered woman. I was also upset about the 10 year legal campaign that Kimberly Nixon pursued against Vancouver Rape Relief but behavior is different from identity. I also believe that there are places and times when we can and should nurture male allies and be inclusive of trans people. The concept of intersectionality helps us understand overlapping social identities and respect interconnections between systems of oppression. In order to create social change, I think we need to appreciate the broad spectrum of oppression, create partnerships with other groups that have mobilized for change and support their efforts.

      • Tired feminist

        I don’t care about being respectful towards transwomen who don’t respect women.

    • Tired feminist

      One thing I find particularly baffling is that no one seems to press LGBT organizations – which DO have a T for transgender in their name – to give assistance to transwomen victims of domestic violence. Yet everyone seems to expect women’s shelters to take them.

  • Rachael

    It’s a shock to people when it happens because acknowledging that male violence is an epidemic upsets the carefully constructed balance that most people live with. The pretence. Nobody likes to admit that they are either the oppressor or the oppressed. It doesn’t fit with common public western morals. Hell, most criminals, even after the fact, think they are honest, decent people, and live amongst a carefully constructed house of cards of self-pretence.

    I have an alcoholic father, and one of the worst things about it when I was growing up was that nobody believed me or my mum. He was the “good guy”, the “nice bloke” on the street. We were horrible and mean for saying such things about him. And besides, even if we were right, what bad things had we done to cause him to behave that way?

    The men in this article kill their wives because they did something that broke through the facade that they were just his property. It’s why it’s so common when women have babies: the husbands no longer have their undivided attention. And it will continue this way whilst we are living under a patriarchy that insists our worth is tied to that of the men around us, our identity as their wives, sisters, mothers, daughters being put before our own individual identities of being ourselves!

    • Alienigena

      Also had an alcoholic father, but never felt empowered enough to say anything to anyone (in authority) … and most of my family never acknowledged he was an alcoholic (frequent binge drinker but functional, he worked in a corporate culture that seemed to support heavy group drinking by coworkers after work hours). He was one of the dual personality types … one way at home (abusive to my mother, brother and I but not seemingly to my sister). He was abusive drunk (but quite articulate, loquacious, and mean-spirited in his comments) or sober. He threatened to commit suicide, to quit his job and go on welfare, used corporal punishment (for things most people would not consider misbehavior) as an excuse to physically assault me at least, at various times. My siblings (one older, one younger) responded by rebelling in a typical fashion, skipping school, mouthing off to teachers, stealing (once) from teachers, exhibiting no impulse control (realise this could be partly ADHD, which seems to impair peoples’ ability to forgo a dare, which my brother couldn’t), having sex early, taking drugs, having under age alcohol fueled parties in our home (and leaving the empties at the back door for my parents to see), and running away. I wasn’t fond of chaos so tried to find outlets in extracurricular activities like music, the arts, religion, reading. I didn’t like my father, and didn’t apologize when I inconvenienced him and generally avoided him, I think he knew I didn’t like, love or respect him. My dad was considered to be a great guy by the people he supervised (he was a middle manager at high tech company), friends and neighbors (because he was handy and could build structures, fix cars, wire buildings, etc.), which seems a great irony given how much havoc he wrecked in all our lives (the man who was constantly building, fixing was a wrecking ball in our lives), including my older sister’s who didn’t seem to attract his ire, but who still acted out nonetheless.

  • Alienigena

    It is so disturbing that men who murder their female spouses/partners are described as great family men, nice people (in the workplace). That people in their lives (with exception of their children and partners, who have been permanently silenced by the act of murder) just can’t imagine them killing and with such ferocity, in a number of cases. These comments just demonstrate that many people don’t know anything about perpetrators (men) in cases of family or domestic violence, or their dual personality (their public/professional persona and how they behave at home around their spouse and family).

    I don’t see the same treatment for women who kill their children. They are described in headlines as “Killer Moms” of “Child Killers” or their crimes are described in succinct detail, “Woman who drowned her 2 children in Alberta reported dead in Australia”. Cases like Allyson McConnell come to mind. Articles (even in right wing news media like the Sun chain) do indicate she had postpartum depression and that she attempted to commit suicide numerous times in Canada (and had suicidal thoughts since her teens), finally succeeding when she returned to Australia to live with her mother.


    However, there was no attempt by the Canadian justice system to give her a pass (as was done for the physician in Quebec who killed his children), she was convicted of manslaughter (crown wanted second degree murder) and served 15 months of a six year sentence (included time served). If people don’t know about the case of the physician, he was found not criminally responsible originally by reason of mental disorder.


    No one said Allyson McConnell was a good mom (prior to post-partum depression) or that she was kind or helpful or funny or loyal or any other positive trait. Or talked about the lack of services for women suffering from post-partum depression. Or that fact that Allyson was originally from Australia and likely had few social supports during and after her pregnancies. Nor do the articles try to excuse her behaviour (as they often seem to do for male perpetrators) by citing the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father who impregnated her when she was 15 years old. The articles just describe her suicide attempts, the murders, and suggest she was just an unstable woman with suicidal ideation. I have not done a scan of headlines describing women who murder but I doubt they would be as positive as the ones describing male perpetrators or the content of the articles so forgiving or complimentary.

    • Katie MunchmaQuchi Smith

      Whenever a woman commits any crime (or is merely accused of one) her gender is the main talking point.

  • genny

    I’m so happy the only male in my life is my cat. Why would any woman want to be involved with a man? They bring nothing but drama and violence and misogyny into a woman’s life.

    • Katie MunchmaQuchi Smith

      I have this unfortunate mental illness known as heterosexuality XD

      I stay away from men for the most part, but I can’t really help feeling like a partner would be nice….but knowing how awful most of them are….

  • Max Dashu

    Great column! request, though: eschew the passive voice when describing men murdering women.

  • fxduffy

    So true. Men’s utter blankness of mind about other men’s violence toward women is only trumped by the media, not only the major media, but the media lock, stock, and barrel. Such fully predictive violence is never never viewed as a pattern, let alone a social injustice. It’s just stories to be reported, some titillating, some tragic, but none that have a memory, or a history. These stories are not written to be addressed but to constitute news, and thus be displaced by other news.

  • Meghan Murphy

    “Btw, when people refer to ”the left” on this site, is it only about liberal leftists or the left as a whole? Sorry, I’m not very familiar with the situation with socialists etc, especially in the West.”

    Ugh, well it’s hard to say, tbh…

    I mean, these ‘leftists’ seem very liberal when it comes to gender/women’s issues… While I do differentiate between left and liberal, much of the left (i.e. socialists, the labour movement) seems to, for example, defend the sex trade and gender identity politics. I mean, we can see here that a large labour org is fighting a feminist organization that exists to help women escaping male violence. It’s fucked.

    • Nadja Penaluna

      Yes, I find there is some wonderful political/social analyses coming from some socialist and leftist groups. But, I’ve also noticed a total lack of principled opposition to the pornography industry and sex work, from those same groups. The disconnect is shameful.

      These days, labour unions rarely advocate for structural social change. They have their bureaucrats who have an interest in keeping the structures of power intact. Their policies are expressed in progressive and democratic rhetoric, but in truth are hostile to the common good. The neoliberal government and union’s agenda is antithetical to the radical feminist movement, so I’m not surprised that the BCFED would oppose the RRS. You said it Meghan, it is so fucked!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thank you, sister!

  • Meghan Murphy

    People are free to disagree and discuss, here, so long as it’s done respectfully and/or with sincerity (i.e. not trolling). How else does one learn?

  • Sabine

    Right on Megan. A brilliant article. It really is like this insane, willful denial…a mass delusion…and we are the “lunatics” pointing it out decade after decade…mostly to no avail. When will we ever get somewhere?!!!!

  • Lisa Tremblay

    What makes you think I care more about men who transition to women than I care about women? I have been a lesbian feminist for 40 years. I have worked and volunteered in women’s shelters and rape crisis centres and other feminist organizations my entire adult life. I have never supported the idea of trans-women counseling women in rape crisis centres or domestic violence shelters. I have simply suggested that we respectfully use the pronoun that the person has transitioned to. I do the same for trans-men and for non-binary folks who chose not to use either of the gendered pronouns.
    I have also suggested that there are times when feminists need to collaborate with male allies and trans people on issues of common interest. That does not mean that I think these groups should have more of a say in feminism than feminists. However, all movements need to listen to the perspective of other movements in order to learn, grow and mobilize effectively for social change.

  • Lisa Tremblay

    It seems to me that if we want to be treated with respect as feminists, then we need to be respectful of others.

  • Lisa Tremblay

    Identity does seem sacrosanct to me. Who should define a person? The person themselves or other people? Acceptance by the group you identify with is, of course, a different matter altogether.
    I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say this identity is the product of an antisocial personality disorder. Kimberley Nixon disregarded the rights of Vancouver Rape Relief to define their membership but I don’t think we should psychologize her. Please feel free to correct me if I’m misinterpreting your point.

    • Tired feminist

      One can identify as anything, without it necessarily being true or relevant. I can identify as The Supreme Owner of Truth, for example.

  • Richard Rich

    @disqus_963OoDhJxc:disqus You are promoting male supremacist ideology when you refer to men as women and speak on their behalf. I’m not going to refer to men as women because they are not women. It’s that simple! Nobody who is sick in the head is in any position to demand anything from society.

    And sex is clearly defined and immutable. Not something that is made up to oppress females, but something that oppresses them nonetheless because of how males treat them due to their biology. And you want women to forget about that when you tell them that their sex is arbitrary.

    I’m starting to express doubts whether you truly are a woman, or simply a man trying to pass himself off as a woman, since no woman in her right mind is going to go out on a limb to accommodate the other half of the human species that has more power than she does.

    To add insult to injury, you want feminists to water down their message and be “respectful” towards the people who have always vilified and marginalize them, when women have never gotten any respect as a collective group of people throughout their entire history. Do you even listen to yourself and read the things that you type? You sound insane with the things that you spew!

  • Katie MunchmaQuchi Smith

    Dunno if you watch Black Mirror but there’s an episode where a senior detective is helping train a new detective. A case where a husband is suspected of killing his wife happens. The new woman starts to say, “He doesn’t seem like–”

    “Don’t say ‘the type.’ He’s ordinary. That IS the type,” the experienced woman interrupts.

    It was just a short little line in the show, but one of the few times I have seen that addressed in the media or pop culture. It’s too often that we get this idea that men’s violence against women is committed by scary weremen who emerge at the full moon, assault and kill women, then disappear at sunrise, returning beneath the dirt from whence they came.

    • northernTNT

      ya that was a good episode. I liked most of that series, bleak and a very wide gaze upon crazy society

  • Katie MunchmaQuchi Smith

    HOLD ME! lol I am also terrifed of Dump. He seems to have emerged at just the right time (wrong time, really) to completely strip women of our rights…and libfems will be right next to him talking about how empowering it is for us!

  • Katie MunchmaQuchi Smith

    It’s the doing/being problem. Men like this think if they say they are feminists, it makes them feminists even when they behave as cavemen.

  • J. Williams

    How about a woman-only community?! Or would trans ‘women’ or straight men invade it? Probably. Well, if they let men have their little ‘male only’ communities, women should be able to as well. I would think it might be good for the sexes to have ‘male free’ and ‘female free’ zones. A respite of sorts.

    • northernTNT

      Males have always (well ok, 6000 years) had female free zones, it is called patriarchy. What is illegal is to have male-free zones.

  • northernTNT

    Ranting public proclamations of love are a sure sign of real nasty trouble brewing in the relationship. Right now I am highly concerned because one of our monogamy-with-males-defending radfem sisters is partaking of this public behaviour, going on long rants about the perfect boyfriend and there of course being decent men to be found. I am very concerned.

  • northernTNT

    I feel we’ll NEVER change these men. WE have been breeding them, selecting for these characteristics for too many years.
    Short of changing males, females must boycott patriarchal institutions such as life-monogamy-to-a-male and reproduction.
    Men will never change.