Lessons from De­cem­ber 6

One hun­dred years ago, war­ship mu­ni­tions ig­nited and killed 2,000. Twenty-eight years ago, 14 women were killed at École Polytech­nique. How vi­o­lent must vi­o­lence be to hold our at­ten­tion and be­come the cat­a­lyst for change?

The Coast - - VOICE OF THE CITY - BY ANONY­MOUS Read more opin­ions at at the­coast .ca

There are some dates that just have bag­gage. De­cem­ber 6 has SO much bag­gage.

We mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the Hal­i­fax Ex­plo­sion on De­cem­ber 6.

A French ship was packed with small con­tain­ers of pi­cric acid, TNT, gun­cot­ton and benzo that were dan­ger­ous enough on their own, but to­gether would form the most deadly ex­plo­sion the world had ever known, or would know for quite some time.

The volatiles were packed too tightly and care­lessly by Amer­i­cans into a ves­sel that could not hold them. No con­voy would travel with that ship for fear of what might hap­pen. It was not al­lowed to dock on the US east coast. When the ship blew, it wiped out more than 2,000 in­no­cent peo­ple.

Had those mu­ni­tions ar­rived at their in­tended des­ti­na­tion rather than blow­ing up ac­ci­den­tally here, in Hal­i­fax, would we ex­pend so much time and at­ten­tion on memo­ri­als? If they had taken 20,000 lives else­where rather than 2,000 lives here, would we care as much? I doubt it.

De­cem­ber 6 also marks the 28th an­niver­sary of the Mon­treal mas­sacre.

De­cem­ber 6, 1989 is the day that a sin­gle man went on a shooting ram­page and killed 14 in­no­cent young women and in­jured 14 oth­ers in just un­der 22 min­utes. Disem­pow­ered and dis­en­fran­chised be­cause women were tak­ing en­gi­neer­ing places at École Polytech­nique, he lashed out. Less than 10 per­cent of the places were “taken” by women, but that was too many for him. Never mind that those 10 per­cent were the top 10 per­cent. Never mind all the odds they had to beat to be there.

How many women have to suf­fer vi­o­lence and how close does it need to be for it to mat­ter? How vi­o­lent must the vi­o­lence be to get our at­ten­tion? And to hold it? At what point is it a cat­a­lyst for change?

This photo is of the last en­try Anne-Marie Ed­ward made in the fam­ily cot­tage’s guest­book, in nearby Cap Brulé, New Brunswick. She was a real per­son. Stop now; take a mo­ment and read it.

She was ev­ery­thing any of us wants our daugh­ters to be. She was smart. She was a var­sity ath­lete, buried in her ski-team jacket. She was de­ter­mined and kind. She was head­strong. She would have been 50 next Oc­to­ber.

What could she have done? What dif­fer­ence would she have made in the world? Her mother, a tal­ented pi­anist, con­tem­plates that ques­tion as the mu­sic and grief pour out of her.

Her mother, fa­ther and brother have bravely marched on and lived their lives. Her mom, Suzanne, has trav­elled every­where and spo­ken to ev­ery­one who will lis­ten both about gun con­trol and about vi­o­lence against women.

It’s im­por­tant for her to know that her daugh­ter made a dif­fer­ence. It’s im­por­tant for her to know that Anne-Marie did not die in vain. She was one of the driv­ing forces behind the gun reg­istry that the last gov­ern­ment scrapped.

Anne-Marie’s par­ents are get­ting older now. Like so many of us on this coast, they are sailors. They are prob­a­bly go­ing to sell their boat this year. It’s time. As we trimmed the sails and tacked across She­diac Bay re­cently, I couldn’t help but won­der how much they wished it was Anne-Marie and not me at the helm. My heart broke for them. It breaks for her. It breaks for us.

Vi­o­lence against women starts with small things. It’s not women we know and love that are the orig­i­nal tar­gets. The tiny con­tain­ers of thinly-veiled vi­o­lence are never in­tended to be a bomb that blows up a large num­ber of women. It orig­i­nates as a col­lec­tion of many small acts and tiny toxic mi­cro-ag­gres­sions. Each on their own, they don’t seem to be too dan­ger­ous. We ac­cept them ev­ery day in our so­ci­ety.

How­ever, it blows up when all of those tiny con­tain­ers are packed too tightly into a ves­sel that can­not hold them. It’s a ves­sel no one wishes to es­cort. We don’t want it to dock here. How much dam­age it causes, and to whom, is up to you. How much it mat­ters if that hap­pens here–or there—is also up to you.

If you stand by when the small­est ag­gres­sion is packed in, don’t be sur­prised if you find your­self blinded by the bomb when it even­tu­ally det­o­nates.

Maybe it’s time this ship sailed too. It starts with small things, and it can also end with them.


Anne-Marie Ed­ward’s last en­try in the fam­ily cot­tage guest­book. The au­thor of this piece wishes to re­main anony­mous.

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