As the scourge of mass shootings has proliferated over the past several decades, we have engaged in a necessary conversation about what questions matter in their aftermath. Following this week’s tragedy in Nova Scotia, Prime Minister Trudeau urged the Canadian media not to publish the name of the perpetrator and to instead focus on the victims. But central to this is the relationship between Canadian perpetrators of mass shootings and their victims.
The day after the news broke, my heart sank when I learned that the perpetrator began with an attack on his partner. This means that one of Canada’s worst tragedies is yet again connected to domestic violence.
Misogynistic beliefs underlie all of Canada’s worst mass shootings that have taken place in my lifetime. The 1989 Polytechnique shooting is the most infamous, the Toronto van attack perpetrator was radicalized by online incel subculture, and, in addition to his racist anti-Muslim views, the Quebec Mosque shooter routinely attacked feminists online. The latter two have not been widely discussed in the context of violent misogyny. This is a mistake - by failing to examine the underlying toxic views of the perpetrators we miss out on a sense of urgency to address them.
Larger scale analyses confirm this pattern. An analysis of F.B.I. data on mass shootings found that 57 percent of mass shootings between 2009-2015 included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims. Misogynistic beliefs, a connection to incel culture or a history of domestic violence have been reported in many infamous US mass shootings. These beliefs are founded on the notion that men have entitlements over people of marginalized genders - the right to control their partners and family members, to dictate the rights of others and to have access to womens’ bodies.
There are more actions that the government should take. As elected officials, we can fully fund domestic violence shelters and victim supports. We can invest in public awareness campaigns and ensure that children learn about toxic belief systems and abusive behaviour in school. We can improve economic security for people of marginalized genders who are disproportionately victims of domestic and gender-based violence. However, the government can only do so much. Canadians need to take on a wider shared responsibility for combatting misogynistic attitudes and behaviour.
We need to be vigilant and uncompromising, even when the behaviour doesn’t yet constitute outright physical abuse. Violence exists on a spectrum. People who know the Nova Scotia shooter say that his jealous treatment of his girlfriend was a “red flag.” Indeed, experts say that misogynistic treatment of women and other family members by a perpetrator is often observed before it escalates to mass violence. Before the perpetrators terrorize society, they terrorize those closest to them.
Even seemingly “smaller” instances of misogyny are part of the problem. As I mentioned earlier, an increasing number of mass murders were radicalized online through incel forums. Sexist memes and abusive online comments are part of normalizing and perpetuating this dangerous subculture.
The responsibility for combating misogyny must be shared by everyone. We all need to speak out when we encounter instances of misogyny, educate ourselves and build the underlying conditions that support gender diversity and inclusion. We need to do all of this urgently and we need to do it all the time, not just in the wake of a tragedy.
In particular, we need to see more proactive efforts from men. People of marginalized genders have long been at the forefront of fighting to address gender-based violence, taking on the work of advocating for policy change and building victim support organizations. Men need to show they are united in the fight for equality, especially by fostering alternative visions of masculinity that are not tied to the control or domination of people of marginalized genders.
This need not be a daunting task. The majority of men already model equitable treatment of others and much progress towards equality has been made. As we all embrace more learning and open dialogue, we will build a society where everyone can enjoy a healthy sense of identity that doesn’t diminish or threaten anyone else. By sharing the responsibility for combatting gender-based violence and discrimination, we will all share in the rewards of a more peaceful, equitable country.
Sonia Furstenau is MLA for Cowichan Valley and the BC Green Party spokesperson for gender equity.