Jan Reimer: I was Edmonton’s first female mayor when the Montreal massacre happened. The violence was not random


Today we mark the 30th anniversary of the Montreal massacre, when a man, who felt personally wronged by women’s burgeoning equality, planned and executed a lethal attack at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, killing 14 women.

I remember December 6, 1989 well. The news of the murders was gutting. I had just been elected mayor. Edmonton’s first female mayor.

Like women entering engineering faculties, the election of Edmonton’s first female mayor — with women forming the majority of Edmonton’s City Council — was seen as a symbol of women’s rights and the progress of the women’s movement.

Yet here we had a gunman who separated the men from the women, ordered the 50 men to leave and then shot the remaining nine women, declaring he was fighting feminism — before moving to other parts of the building. This was not some random act of violence.

Less than two months after this massacre a female engineering student was subjected to having cries of “Shoot the b----” aimed at her while performing at an Engineering Week Skit Night. She had previously complained about sexist practices in the faculty and sexist comments in its student magazine — some of which had been directed at me

The engineering school asked what I wanted as an apology — I don’t know what they did to make amends for the female engineering student. I told them I wanted the students to design a public park with the safety of women in mind — but I never heard from them again. I asked for this as male designed spaces often don’t consider the needs and safety of women.

Each act of violence is heartbreaking, and tells us about the overall state of women’s (in)equality and how we must focus on achieving justice for all women.

This week, the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters released our annual report on the numbers of women, children and seniors accessing shelters in Alberta. The data shows that three decades after what happened in Montreal, violence against women remains a very real issue. Domestic violence remains an urgent and serious problem in Alberta, and the severity of the violence is on the rise. Nearly two thirds of women who used the Danger Assessment tool when accessing shelter services are at a “severe” or “extreme” risk of being murdered by their partner. This is the highest risk level we have seen in the last eight years.