Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

The decision from the Ghomeshi trial (read the full decision here) has generated a lot of discussion over the past five days. Some of the reaction has been in favour of the decision, while others have been critical.

In this post, I am not going to comment on the decision itself (although I do have several things to say about it, none of which are that I think Ghomeshi should have been found guilty given the way our current legal system works). Instead, I want to focus on the blurring of the lines that occurs in reaction feminist criticisms of the trial, the decision, the legal system, or responses to sexual assault survivors. I think in each of these cases it is important to keep the target of the criticism firmly in mind if you are going to respond to the criticism reasonably.

It seems to me that several targets of criticism and several alternative responses to sexual assault have been suggested in media responses to the trial. Once could criticize:

  1. a. The decision itself
  2. a. The criminal courts
  3. a. The legal system more generally
  4. a. The effects of one of the above on complainants bringing a case
  5. a. The effects of one of the above on possible future complainants

One could also discuss alternative ways to address sexual assault that have nothing to do with the criminal courts or the legal system. For example:

  1. b. Non-legal responses to sexual assault
  2. b. Ways to support survivors of sexual assault
  3. b. Social norms and changes to social norms

More could be added to the above lists, I am sure. But even with these brief lists, we can see the conflation of the targets of criticism and the contexts of discussion in some responses. For example:

Q: What I find very interesting though is how on the one hand you’ve heard people saying two contradictory things at once. You’ve been hearing “believe women,” #believewomen even, we’ve reduced it to that. On the other hand, everyone will agree of course you’re innocent until proven guilty. I don’t know how we structure a system that believes women on the one hand and also presumes that the accused is innocent.

A: If your friend comes to you and says ‘I was sexually assaulted,’ you believe your friend. But you also use your sense of scrutiny for everything else you do in life and sometimes you have questions. When it comes to a criminal trial, you have to dig down when there are those questions because someone else’s life is at stake and someone else’s liberty is on the line. I have a problem with the #believewomen movement. I get it. But it just makes no sense in the criminal justice context. We can support women who say they have been sexually assaulted. We can have resources available. But when it comes to a criminal trial, to #believe everything a woman says, says “Let’s just throw out the trial and convict the guy.” We would be using some sort of different justice system where no one gets a fair trial because the woman said this happened and that’ll be it. That would be a major setback. There are countries throughout the world who are desperate for our system of justice and there are people who have been convicted of things that they didn’t do. And one case that jumps out is that Neil Bantleman, the Canadian convicted overseas in Indonesia of sexually assaulting a child. The general consensus is the gentleman probably didn’t do it and did not receive a fair trial. The quality of the evidence is horrendous. But if it was #believekids that’s exactly what you get. Which is, “You’re convicted, the kid said it.” That’s full stop. We cannot regress to that justice system. We just can’t. (Source: The National Post emphasis added)

These two things are not at all contradictory because they are not being said about the same targets. The idea that everyone should be innocent until proven guilty is an idea that applies at the level of 2. a. the criminal courts, and possibly to other areas of 3. a. the legal system (but not all areas of the legal system). In contrast, the #believewomen movement is not about the criminal courts or about the legal system, it arises from rape crisis centres and discussions of 2. b. how to support sexual assault survivors. It has no direct application to other contexts. To conflate the targets of criticism, the context of discussion, and suggested responses is to create a straw person argument.

The idea that we should believe women when they tell us about their experience of sexual assault comes from rape crisis centres. The idea behind the movement is that the criminal justice system is currently set up to encourage defense lawyers to show that complainants are not credible and the defense will do this whether or not the complainants are telling the truth (this occurs in other criminal defenses, as well, not just in cases of sexual assault). The response “believe women” is meant to support complainants outside the courtroom as they have their credibility shredded inside the courtroom. It is meant to say that even though their credibility is being called into question, there are still some who believe them.

I have never read any feminist legal scholar or any feminist scholar of any discipline who suggested that the criminal courts should make any criminal decision on the basis of a blind faith in a woman’s testimony. To suggest that this is what the movement is about it to distort the argument and conflate the context of application for the suggestion. It is to misunderstand what #believewomen is about; it is not an analysis of the movement.

In addition, this particular misunderstanding and distortion of the movement serves to make feminists seem irrational. Kathryn Wells is right in the above quote that if what feminist were saying is that courts should never question a woman’s testimony this would create injustice, it would infantilize women, and it would undermine the criminal court system. But this is not what is suggested. The fact that people accept this interpretation goes to show the extent to which people are willing to create a caricature of feminist arguments rather than engaging them.

In contrast, some feminists have criticized the criminal courts and the evidentiary standards. But this is a separate criticism from the claim that we should blindly believe women.

Below the fold there are some more places to read or watch things about the trial.


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At Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in as Prime Minister of Canada on November 4, 2015 he was asked by a reporter why he thought it was important to have a cabinet that is 50% women. His answer was simply to say, “Because it’s 2015,” and then give a shrug.

But, just as The Beaverton (Canada’s premiere satirical news website) predicted “50% female cabinet appointments lead to 5000% increase in guys who suddenly care about merit in cabinet.” (Click here if you prefer serious discussions to satire).

For example, here are some comments posted to Miss Representation’s Facebook post discussing the new cabinet:

Good to see but interesting. Tick a box for equal gender representation rather than appoint the best person (ie qualification, knowledge, experience, ability to value add etc) for the role. It is quite possible there could have been 30/30 women in the Canadian cabinet if the most appropriate persons were appointed as ministers to serve their country. Gender discrimination ended years ago, Every employer appoints the best person for the role. Are Canadians being properly served here ?

Good to see but interesting. Tick a box for equal gender representation rather than appoint the best person (ie qualification, knowledge, experience, ability to value add etc) for the role. It is quite possible there could have been 30/30 women in the Canadian cabinet if the most appropriate persons were appointed as ministers to serve their country. Gender discrimination ended years ago, Every employer appoints the best person for the role. Are Canadians being properly served here ?

This comment compares government to private business “employers” but I think there is a significant difference between government and business, namely our system of government is representative, and so there might be a stronger case to be made that those who hold important positions within government offices should be representative of the population they are meant to, you know, represent.

Whereas private businesses have no mandate to represent any one in particular (except, perhaps, the shareholders), the government is created for the express purpose of representing the people. The two cases are not analogous, and I think a stronger case could be made to say that the government has an obligation to be representative of the demographics of the country.

if women only make up 20 or 30% of the MP's... why do they get 50 % of cabinet posts? Male discrimination!!!!

if women only make up 20 or 30% of the MP’s… why do they get 50 % of cabinet posts? Male discrimination!!!!

Here is the second thing that I think is interesting about the merit and representation discussion. First, I think it is revealing what kinds of representation gets focused on. In both of these comments (and the one below) it is gender-representation that is called into question. The argument seems to be that we don’t need a cabinet with a gender-distribution that represents and reflects the general gender-distribution of the Canadian population, and if we did try for such a cabinet we would thereby be sacrificing quality.

What I find interesting about this type of argument is not what is said, but rather what is not said. For example, Trudeau also tried to create a cabinet that had representation from across the Canadian provinces and territories in proportions that are roughly proportional to the populations in each. But we do not hear that this kind of quota-based representation is going to undermine merit. Nor do we hear that it is unfair because there is only 1 MP from Nunavut so it seems an over-representation to have any one from Nunavut in the Cabinet.

So why might it be that when we are talking about trying to create a cabinet with a gender-distribution that represents the gender-distribution of the country some people suddenly raise a number of concerns about the merit of the ministers selected. In contrast, when the Prime Minister tries to create a cabinet with a regional-distribution that represents the regional-distribution of the country (even when this means that some regions will be over-represented with respect to the population distribution of that region) we do not hear concerns about the merit of those found in the different regions. Why is there the difference in response based on different kinds of quota-based representation? I think the difference shows that there is a presumption that women lack qualifications, but there is not a presumption that there is a lack of qualifications attached to the different regions of Canada in which a minister might live.

I think The Beaverton article is funny, but I do take issue with the use of “guys” in the title of the article, because women are just as likely to be biased against women’s merits as are men (the implicit bias test at Harvard demonstrates that sexism against women is not limited to men, but also affects judgements made by women about other women’s merits). To show that I think women can be sexist, too, here is a comment by a woman from the Miss representation thread:

 It sounds like Trudeau is a politician with life experience. I'm a bit iffy about gender representation having to be 50/50, and still believe in the best person for the job. Surely making it 50/50 is reverse discrimination? For example, if a male applies for a job and is more outstandingly suitable than any other applicant, but the company must employ a female to balance genders in the workplace, this doesn't seem like the company is achieving the best outcome. This goes vice versa of course. I think gender equality should be mandatory, but is in danger of going too far to appease the new female voice which sometimes seems to demand 'over-equality' to catch up for the years of ignorance. Have I stirred the pot?

It sounds like Trudeau is a politician with life experience. I’m a bit iffy about gender representation having to be 50/50, and still believe in the best person for the job. Surely making it 50/50 is reverse discrimination? For example, if a male applies for a job and is more outstandingly suitable than any other applicant, but the company must employ a female to balance genders in the workplace, this doesn’t seem like the company is achieving the best outcome. This goes vice versa of course. I think gender equality should be mandatory, but is in danger of going too far to appease the new female voice which sometimes seems to demand ‘over-equality’ to catch up for the years of ignorance. Have I stirred the pot?

In any case, even if we are only looking at these alleged concerns about the “merit” of the ministers chosen for the cabinet from the perspective of argument analysis we already have reason to think that bias against women’s merit and leadership is at work because of the uneven way the concerns are mobilized against gender, but not regional, representation. And that is before you even look at the evidence: the women Trudeau chose have considerable merit and expertise for the portfolios they will be responsible for. Each of the previous links has a serious analysis, but to keep with the Facebook analysis:


Merit, representation, bias.

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For valentine’s day, I thought I would post something about preventing spousal violence.

Earlier this year, a Justice Canada federal study was released, which details the incidents and costs of spousal violence. There are some interesting findings from the study. For one thing, the study estimates that the costs of spousal violence are very high: an estimated 7.4 billion per year in Canada (and this is said to be a deliberately conservative estimate). The costs include things like legal bills, emergency room visits, lost wages due to time off from injuries, the costs of personal safety measures such as paying for call display to identify stalking spouses, and possible moving expenses to escape the spouse.

Here is the findings on the incidence of spousal violence as reported by The Toronto Star:

Drawing on a Canada-wide police database, researchers found almost 50,000 cases of spousal violence reported to police that year, more than 80 per cent of them involving female victims. The cases included 65 homicides, 49 of them women. (Source: Beeby)

Here is the break-down of the costs associated with spousal violence by gender:

Altogether, total costs were conservatively estimated at $4.8 billion for female victims and $2.6 billion for male victims. (Source: Beeby)

I think that is interesting. Note that according to the study, 80% of the victims of spousal violence are women and 20% are men, but violence committed against men accounts for 35% of the costs associated with spousal violence. The Star article does not describe why the costs are higher for men than for women. If I had to guess I would say that the higher costs are likely associated with the wage gap, since men earn more than women on average, their time away from work would be more expensive. But that is just a guess. Perhaps the issue is that men have more disposable income on average than women do, and so men spend more on their own protection than women do. Beeby mentions that the study found that 80% of the costs of violence are born by the victim themselves (the remainder is born by public services and employers). I am not sure what else might account for the difference.

So this study shows that shelters save money. But they also save lives. It is interesting to note, however, that shelters tend to save men’s lives more than women’s lives:

Let us look at the statistics and see who is murdering whom. Going back to the 1970s we learn that the domestic homicide rates in the U.S. were about the same for men and for women, around 1,000 such killings per year.

Coming to today, the latest figures available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics provide a comparison of intimate homicide rates for 2005 compared with 1976. Here is the official breakdown for 2005: 329 males and 1,181 females were killed in that year by their intimate partners. Clearly men are much more likely to kill their partners than women are to kill theirs. We know from other research that same-sex homicide is predominantly male, a fact of some significance in the statistical breakdown because some of the male intimate homicide victims are not killed by women at all but by their male partners.

Returning to the discrepancy between the decline in the rates of female-on-male domestic homicide and the male-on-female rates, Statistics Canada (1998, 2005, 2010), and other Canadian sources reveal the same trend has occurred in Canada since the years that the women’s movement took shape. For the year 2009, for example, three times as many Canadian women were killed by spouses and ex-spouses as were men.

So what is the explanation for this striking decline in women killing their partners? Researchers including myself attribute the decline to the fact that women who often killed out of fear for their lives now had an alternative avenue of escape thanks to the availability of women’s hot lines and domestic violence services, including shelters. (Keep in mind that women who kill their partners are generally battered women, whereas men who kill are often striking out due to a break-up or threatened break-up.)

“Exposure reduction theory” is the term coined by Wells and DeLeon-Granados in a 2004 article to explain this phenomenon of the significant decline in male homicides by their partners. This theory holds that if a woman can escape from a dangerous battering situation, she will do so, and that if she resorts to using lethal partner violence, it is most likely a protective mechanism. In any case, it is a paradox, rarely realized that the proliferation of domestic violence prevention for which women and victims’ advocates have fought so hard is saving the lives of battering men more than of battered women. Many of the female victims who obtain help from domestic violence services are eventually stalked and killed. (Source: van Wormer)

Shelters provide women a way of escaping violent relationships, and this is more likely to save their male partner’s life than to save the woman’s own life. Clearly, we still need to be doing more for women, but what exactly? Would men’s shelters help reduce homicide of female partners? Van Wormer’s article is not as clear on that. She does suggest that stresses like job loss might increase the rate at which men kill their partners:

So we can conclude that socio-economic status is clearly a correlate of the male-on-female killings. In contrast, the economic factor is less striking in the female-on-male intimate homicide rates. We should also consider the fact that the recent rise in the numbers of murder-suicides and whole family slaughters is correlated with the high unemployment rates for men. (Source: van Wormer)

So shelters clearly help, and if job loss is correlated with spousal homicides by men, shelters should continue to be funded during times of recession. It is great that shelters save men’s lives, but we still have work to do thinking about how we can reduce the rate of women who die at the hands of their intimate partners.

Link Round-Up

Dean Beeby “Spousal violence costs Canadians billions, study findsThe Toronto Star. December 24, 2012.

Katherine van Wormer “Women’s Shelters and Domestic Violence Services Save the Lives of Men,” Psychology Today. December 11, 2010.

Katherine van Wormer “Reducing the Risk of Domestic Homicide” Social Work Today. Vol. 9 No. 1 P. 18. January/February 2009.

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Here is an interesting discussion about Melissa, a Republican who had to move to Canada and changed her mind about Universal Health Care after experiencing it. She also discusses abortion policy in Canada a little bit. In a separate post Melissa describes why she used to fear Universal Health Care.

The comments on the first piece are interesting, too. Many sound like they learned something. There are a number of Canadians showing up to gloat (we love talking about how great our health care is). But this is probably the saddest comment I read there:

I am not in favor of Universal Health Care on principle. it all sounds so good, but you are giving your freedom of choice completely away. The government becomes your provider, not God. You become dependent on the government and worship it instead of God.

I don’t think Obama care is the solution. Government taking away from some to give to others is not charity is stealing. you can’t force charity on people. God doesn’t do it, why should government or anyone do it??

on the surface, UHC looks good, but it’s a web of deceit.

PS I don’t have insurance and I pay cash for all my health care. I have 4 children.

This outlook is very unfamiliar to me.  I think this (anon) commenter is wrong about giving your freedom away: we have lots of choice in Canada. But the idea that the government replaces God? That is what seems unfamiliar to me. I don’t see how a company providing insurance doesn’t replace God in the exact same way.

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This is not really a post, as much as a collection of links. Usually I try to write some thoughts, but today I am deep in marking. Nevertheless, I wanted to provide some links to help counter the media silence around the Idle No More movement. On December 10, 2012, a number of Canada’s First Nations came together around the country to protest the legislative changes Harper is making to the Indian Act and the erosion of environmental protections (among other things). The Indian Act has always been a racist and terrible piece of legislation (for example, this legislation served as the template for South African apartheid), but these changes are making things worse, not better.

Link Round-Up

Idle No More’s Website and Blog, which includes their manifesto describing the reason behind the protests.

Anishinaabewiziwin “Everyday Cry: Feeling Through Ogitchidaakwe’s Hunger Strike” by Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy. December 27, 2012. This is a great piece. I think everyone should read it. It moved me to tears.

Zig Zag Warrior “Idle No More? Speak for Yourself…Warrior Publications December 12, 2012. A critical perspective on the protests.

âpihtawikosisân “The natives are restless. Wondering why?” âpihtawikosisân December 11, 2012.

Trevor Greyeyes “Keep up the Pressure with Idle No MoreThe First Perspective December 11, 2012.

Andrew Loewen “Idle No More & Settler-Colonial Canada” The Paltry Sapians December 11, 2012. (lots of pictures and videos of the Edmonton march at this link)

Nora Loreto “Idle No More: Non-Indigenous responsibility to actRabble.ca December 10, 2012.
IDLE NO MORE: CANADA’S FIRST PEOPLES ARE RISINGIndigenousRising December 10, 2012.

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There has been quite a lot of discussion of unions lately, and to be honest, I think it is kind of exciting. Unions had been quietly fading away, especially in the private sector, but now they seem to be in the headlines once again and I think the attention that is being paid to unions might end up back-firing against those who seek to eliminate them. We heard a lot about Unions with the WalMart employee’s planned “Black Friday” events organized by OUR Walmart: Organization United for Respect at Walmart and the recent controversies over the introduction of “Right-to-Work” laws in Michigan. In this post, I want to concentrate on private-sector employees.

The following video made the rounds of the internet a little while ago. It purports to be an anti-union training video produced by Target. (I looked it up on snopes.com and did not find any debunking, so I am going to assume it is legit).

One of the things that I find so interesting about this video is the way it seems to have a number of internal contradictions. For example, Target is a business, and when we think of Target we are supposed to think of a happy family according to these actors’ lines. In contrast, when they describe the unions, all of a sudden “business” becomes some kind of frightening and corrupt thing. So in the one case, business is supposed to be benign but in the other it is supposed to be scary (complete with scary music! Which is great).

But there is something else odd about this, which is that they seem to be importing a for-profit business model into the not-for-profit union domain. For example, they state that a union “is not a charity” it is a business. But it has no products, only memberships to sell. The “only alternative” (to what is not made clear) is to get more people to pay more money to them in dues every month. But unions aren’t seeking to increase their own profits, because unions are not-for-profit organizations. Therefore, they don’t need to follow business models that require the “only alternative” of getting more people to pay more money to increase profits.

Second, unions sell services, they don’t sell products and they don’t sell memberships. Many businesses don’t sell products. Many businesses sell services. If we want to think of unions as businesses, then they should be thought of more along the lines of service industries and not along the lines of widget-makers. The services that unions sell are bargaining services, and they sell a good service when they are able to effectively bargain on workers’ behalves.

Now, it might be true that there are certain oddities about unions that make them somewhat market-unresponsive.  For example, Wikipedia describes a number of union types:

  • closed shop (US) or a “pre-entry closed shop” (UK) employs only people who are already union members. The compulsory hiring hall is an example of a closed shop—in this case the employer must recruit directly from the union, as well as the employee working strictly for unionized employers.
  • union shop (US) or a “post-entry closed shop” (UK) employs non-union workers as well, but sets a time limit within which new employees must join a union.
  • An agency shop requires non-union workers to pay a fee to the union for its services in negotiating their contract. This is sometimes called the Rand formula. In certain situations involving state public employees in the United States, such as California, “fair share laws” make it easy to require these sorts of payments.
  • An open shop does not require union membership in employing or keeping workers. Where a union is active, workers who do not contribute to a union still benefit from the collective bargaining process. In the United States, state level right-to-work laws mandate the open shop in some states. In Germany only open shops are legal; that is, all discrimination based on union membership is forbidden. This affects the function and services of the union. An EU case concerning Italy extended this principle to the rest of the EU in that it stated that, “The principle of trade union freedom in the Italian system implies recognition of the right of the individual not to belong to any trade union (“negative” freedom of association/trade union freedom), and the unlawfulness of discrimination liable to cause harm to non-unionized employees.” (Source: Wikipedia “Trade Union”)

Now, Republicans in so-called “Right-to-Work” legislation like to focus on the first three types listed above (closed shop, union shop, and agency shop unions). The Republicans often suggest that requiring union dues violates negative freedoms of association (the right not to associate, if one so chooses). There might be some truth to these complaints. For example, I would be mighty unhappy if I were forced to pay my hairdresser (a service provider) every month whether or not I wanted a haircut.

On the other hand, “Right-to-Work” legislation favours open-shop unions, and this too has its troubles.  Open shop unions allow employees to decide whether they want to associate as a union (the positive freedom to associate without government interference requires allowing workers to continue to make this choice if so desired, though this right is not honoured in all of the United States or Canadian provinces). But those who choose not to associate with the union are still able to reap the benefits of the services provided by the unions. This is destined to weaken the union. Keeping with the hairdresser metaphor, if I were not required to pay my hairdresser, but I was still able to obtain a haircut whenever I wanted one, there would be no incentive for me to pay the hairdresser. Sure, a few people who really believed in the skills of hairdressers might continue to pay, but in short time most (if not all) hairdressers would likely go out of business. Ironically, in making the anti-union case, the Target video points out precisely this problem: “And no body wants to pay dues for something they already have” (Source: “Doug” about minute 3:22).

Before I go on to suggest an alternative, it might be worth considering whether union services are something we bought once, and now “already have” forever. It is a strange suggestion, since most services are things we buy on an ongoing basis and if we stop buying them, then we lose the service. Perhaps if we were thinking of unions as something that sold a “product” then this would make sense. For example, if I buy a book, I don’t need to keep buying it every month. But as we’ve already discussed, unions sell a service, not a product. If I have enrolled in a cleaning service, then I will need to continuously put money into that service, otherwise the cleaners will no longer come.

This video: Debunking anti-union myths takes on this point directly:

This video notes that unions are a service. One of the things that they provide is on-going representation in addition to helping to enforce the legislative gains that were made by unions in the past.  Even if labour laws exist, they will not be effective unless they are enforced. Part of the service that this video claims is provided by unions is assistance in enforcing their legal rights under labour standards legislation.

In contrast, Target tries to have it both ways. They paint for-profit businesses of the past as evil, while making for-profit businesses of the presents into benign entities. So they are not daemonizing unions, you see. Just modern not-for-profit unions (businesses), who are “out of step” with the evolving and competitive modern for-profit businesses. Here is Gwen Sharpe on this issue:

What I found especially striking was the segment starting at about 3:10, where they argue we don’t need unions because, basically, they were so effective in the past, they already fixed everything! There’s no more child labor, you can get worker’s comp if you’re injured…what more could you need a union for? So on the one hand, today unions are useless, empty organizations that just take your money and give you nothing, but in the past, they were great. Presumably employers only had to be told once to clean up, and then for all time everything is fixed. (source: Sharpe)

In addition, the union can serve as a buffer or “anonymizer” between the employee making the complaint and the employer who will hear the complaint. Is this necessary? I guess that is for employees to decide for themselves. The union case is that if an employee makes a complaint about the way they are being managed, and the only outlet for this complaint is that very same management, then there is a heightened chance that the employee will be fired for the complaint. Target disagrees:

[“Maria”] Person 2: …Target prides its self on our open door policy. Ask your team leader, ask your ETL [executive team leader], or ask any supervisor. There doors and every door are always open to you and what you have to say.

I don’t know how most employees might feel about talking about their problems with management directly to management, but as a union member (not a ‘higher up’ whose whole job is negotiating, but just a regular employee who is a member of a union whose job has nothing to do with union negotiations), I am pretty happy to have someone to act as a go-between so that I don’t have to fear being fired.

Link Round-Up and Transcript of the Target Video below the fold.


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Today I remember Geneviève Bergeron, 21; Hélène Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31; Maryse Leclair, 23; Annie St.-Arneault, 23; Michèle Richard, 21; Maryse Laganière, 25; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 28; Annie Turcotte, 21. They died because they were women. Who dared to study engineering.

This day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of these 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal.

December 6 by Evalyn Parry:

Lyrics and Links below the fold


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