National Post

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Monday, December 06, 1999

A day to mourn all victims of crime
Donna Laframboise
National Post

Ten years ago today, a gunman named Marc Lepine murdered 14 promising young women, wounded 13 other people, and then took his own life. The heartache inflicted by these terrible acts is incalculable. The families of the victims deserve, and have received, sympathy and comfort from a nation.

But on this 10th anniversary of what has become known as the Montreal Massacre, it's time to talk about how Mr. Lepine's ugly thoughts and hateful actions begot more ugliness and hatred. It's time to ask why, as we condemned Mr. Lepine's scapegoating of women for all his problems, we too sank to his level. Mirroring back his unsound reasoning, we found our own scapegoat: men.

When three black robbers burst into the Just Desserts cafe late one evening in 1994 and senselessly shotgunned a 23-year-old woman to death, Toronto experienced some of the same kinds of feelings Montreal did 10 years ago. The media declared that that city had "lost its innocence." Ordinary people deposited mountains of flowers at the murder site. Complete strangers attended the victim's funeral.

But despite everyone's shock and grief, one thing did not happen: Responsible people did not scapegoat the entire black community. Indeed, newspaper editorials and columnists went out of their way to stress that it was unjust to view these robbers as representative of the average black person.

When a high-profile black spokesperson pointed out that most blacks lead quiet, normal, law-abiding lives and declared that the "whole community shouldn't be criminalized by the actions of a few," his remarks were not only afforded prominence and respect, they carried the day.

Yet where the Montreal Massacre is concerned, we seem no closer than we were 10 years ago to such clear-minded thinking. From the beginning, we were told that Lepine wasn't merely a crazed gunman, but a representative of his gender -- that all men shared in his guilt. We were told that his horrible crimes weren't an aberration but a symbol -- his views and behaviour were merely an extreme form of how men generally interact with women.

The degree to which this interpretation became accepted at the highest levels of our society is indicated by the fact Parliament, in short order, declared Dec. 6 a national day of "Action on Violence Against Women."

The hysteria has yet to abate. This past June, the White Ribbon Campaign -- organized by breast-beating, self-effacing males -- held a fundraising concert titled "Men's Apology to the Female Spirit." Jack Layton, a Toronto city councillor who co-founded the campaign in 1991, says Lepine's actions convinced him it was time for men "to speak out and own up to this behaviour."

Two weeks ago, Suzanne Laplante-Edward, the mother of one of Lepine's victims, told a University of Calgary medical symposium on gender that: "Men know power in their bones. They have subjugated women in the world for so long they have come to regard it as their innate right. They have had time to develop all the intricacies of the trade. They can be very shrewd and insidious." That she then insisted her own husband and son don't "possess a single violent bone in their bodies" hardly undid the damage.

There was once a time when Jews or blacks were denigrated in a wholesale manner by people who nonetheless believed themselves fair-minded because they would occasionally acknowledge that a certain Jew or a certain black had transcended the innate shortcomings of his or her group. This is precisely how men have been thought of in the wake of the Montreal Massacre. Blameless men, like acceptable Jews, are apparently the exception rather than the rule.

But this skewed perspective is no closer to reality than were Lepine's views regarding women. For every Lepine, there are thousands of male volunteer firefighters who risk life and limb in order to assist others in times of tragedy. When the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission honours civilians -- both Canadian and American -- who perform daring, spontaneous rescues, 90% of those individuals are always male.

It's time for us to break free of the example of bigotry and vitriol Lepine set for us. It's time to declare loudly that he was no more representative of the average male than Karla Homolka is of the average female; that his actions tell us no more about our society than do those of the teenage girls who beat 14-year-old Reena Virk to death. It's time to acknowledge that most men, like most blacks, lead quiet, normal, law-abiding lives.

Dec. 6 should become a day on which all violence is condemned; on which the kind of child abuse that helped shape Lepine's tormented psyche, as well as the assaults, robberies and murders that disproportionately strike men, are also denounced.

It should become a day to mourn for all victims of crime, including 23-year-old women who are blasted away during robberies and 16-year-old boys who lose their lives at the hands of thugs looking for cigarettes.

At the moment, Dec. 6 is far less than that. It is a day that elevates only one kind of crime, and only one kind of victim, above all others.

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