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

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.