The Shadow Pandemic and the Montreal Massacre

December 6th, 2021 marked the 32nd anniversary of the mass shooting of 14 women engineering students at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, known as the Montreal Massacre. The shooting was motivated by deep anti-feminist sentiment. In 1991, December 6th was declared a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day. 

In 2021, this anniversary comes on a wave of femicides in Quebec since the beginning of 2021 (Lowrie, 2021), and the reports of increases in intimate partner violence since the beginning of the pandemic. The UN went as far as to call the rise in the rates of intimate partner violence a shadow pandemic (UN, 2021); this has corresponded with women experiencing disproportionate job loss during the pandemic, especially in the service sector (see She-cession Recession). While this reporting on increases in intimate partner violence peaked in Spring 2021, December 6th came with a resurgence of reporting, particularly violence against women. 

The modern capitalist spatial division between the domestic and public realms, separating work from home (see Contract and Contagion), are no longer as separate as many people shift to work from home or are laid off. While a yearly anniversary commemorates the Montreal Massacre, throughout Canadian public spaces there are memorials to the tragedy and violence against women more broadly (Bold et al., 2002). Memorials, because of their location in public space, are seen as an effort to “resist the suppression of public consciousness about the scope and extent of violence against women” (Bold et al., 2002,125). There has been a lot of discussion of the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in public gatherings focussed on the dangers and risk in the public realm, while the news coverage of the increases in intimate partner violence indicate the increasing precarity and danger within the domestic realm of home. The risk of contracting COVID-19 is mitigated by staying at home, but what mitigates the danger at home? Opposed to the constant coverage of COVID-19 outbreaks, coverage of the ‘shadow pandemic’ has fallen off only to be revived on days like December 6th. When violence against women happens in public space and is related to their professional lives the tragedy is commemorated in public life; a shadow pandemic of intimate partner violence is briefly publicized then returns to the private, domestic space were is it perpetrated.

White Ribbon Day is a moment to reflect and questions: How has the stress of the pandemic and the collapsing of the boundaries between work and domestic space contributed to the increases in intimate partner violence? What does workplace health and safety mean when the health and safety of workers is intertwined with their personal lives in a domestic space? When employers ‘enter’ their employees’ homes what responsibility do they have for their welfare?

Bold, Christine, Ric Knowles, and Belinda Leach. “Feminist memorializing and cultural countermemory: The case of Marianne’s Park.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28, no. 1 (2002): 125-148.

Lowrie, M. (2021, December 5th). Polytechnique anniversary comes as Quebec mourns spate of domestic violence killings. Victoria News.

UN Women, (2021). The Shadow Pandemic Violence Against Women during COVID-19.