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We can do this! Eliminating systemic sexism, misogyny, men’s violence and femicide

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – On April 19th the largest mass shootings in Canadian history ended. Before the violent misogynistic man was shot and killed by the RCMP, he had committed 13 femicides and 9 homicides. 

Seven weeks later Minister of Justice Mark Furey stated a joint federal-provincial inquiry or review into this horrendous mass killing will happen. He described this developing process as broad in scope, needing judicial leadership with the ability to compel witnesses to testify, so recommendations made are binding on agencies.

A critical piece in a federal-provincial broad in scope inquiry, or review, requires the inclusion of a feminist analysis addressing male violence against women or “gender-based violence” as Minister Furey named it. This framework is absolutely essential to examine how the RCMP understands and responds to complaints of male violence against women.

For instance, Brenda Forbes reported that this killer was a dangerous man who had guns, who assaulted and strangled his female partner. Why were her reports of the killer’s serial assaults and strangulation of his female partner not acted upon by the RCMP? Was the potential of a femicidal risk ignored by the RCMP? Acting to intervene when men commit intimate partner violence can help prevent femicides. Mass killings are frequently associated with male violence against female partners. What did the RCMP do with this knowledge? 

Viewing the “RCMP update about the Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation” covered live on CBC News, June 4, left us distressed and outraged. Stating the mass killer was an ‘injustice collector’ according to the psychological autopsy, ignored that men injustice-blame women they assault or torture. Instead, why were the killer’s misogynistic serial assaulting, his strangulation of his female partner, plus his possession of guns not suggested as the potential reasons for his mass femicidal and homicidal rampage? 

Does a culture of sexism and misogyny regarding male violence against women exist in Nova Scotia?

A federal-provincial inquiry or review must answer this question. To do otherwise would mean intentionally ignoring that systemic sexism exists in Canada and in Nova Scotia as it does globally. To do otherwise would mean willful federal-provincial silencing of the misogynistic violence male assaulters and torturers inflict against women and girls. It would mean deliberate federal-provincial dismissal of the research that male violence against women can lead to femicide and mass shootings. Therefore, there is no other choice.

A feminist analysis on how systemic sexism and misogyny impact on reports of male violence against women and girls is essential in a broad scope federal-provincial inquiry or review. Asking the RCMP to address these questions is not being destructive. Speaking openly and transparently to answer these difficult questions is necessary to transform our culture, agencies, and relationships.    

Systemic sexism and misogyny: Herstorical political and judicial realities 

To slip back in time to show how sexism and misogyny are Canadian realities, let’s drop in and visit Margaret Mitchell. In 1979 she was elected to the House of Commons. On May 12, 1982, during question period, she stood up to address Judy Erola, Minister of the Status of Women. Margaret began her statement with “one in 10 Canadian husbands beat their wives regularly.” Misogynistic laughter, heckling, and “vulgar jokes” were unsuccessful in silencing her. Persevering she said, “Madame Speaker, this is no laughing matter.” Supporting Margaret, Judy Erola said she did not find the men’s derision amusing “and neither do the women of Canada”—not then nor now. 

When Barbara Greene submitted “The War Against Women” report to the Canadian government in 1991, it included Ann Sharp’s example of this sexist misogynistic judicial judgement:

A woman whose ex-partner was convicted of aggravated assault against her….was hung by ropes, naked, from the beam of a barn and whipped to…unconsciousness….in front of the male’s three children….[H]e received…a $200 fine and three years’ unsupervised probation. The woman sat, disbelieving, as he was…fined $500 for an unrelated charge of possessing illegal venison. Based on this sentence, one could argue that in the future moose and deer would be safer from this man than the woman he tortured.   

This man’s torture of his spouse takes us back to the year 2000 and our two and half years of supporting Lynn recover from the torture she survived. In brief, Lynn said: 

I was called bitch, slut, whore and “piece of meat.” Stripped naked and raped – “broken in” – by three goons who, along with my husband, held me captive in a windowless room handcuffed to a radiator. Their laugher humiliated me….Raped and tortured…I was choked or almost drowned when they held me underwater…in the tub….I was whipped with the looped wires of clothes hangers, ropes and electric cords; I was drugged, pulled around by my hair and forced to cut myself with razor blades for men’s sadistic pleasure. Guns threatened my life….Starved, beaten with a baseball bat, kicked, and left cold and dirty, I suffered five pregnancies and violent…abortions….I saw my blood everywhere when I was ganged raped with a knife. Every time [my husband’s] torturing created terror in my eyes, he’d say, ‘Look at me bitch; I like to see the terror in your eyes.’ I never stopped fearing I was going to die. 

Lynn lived in Bible Hill where the RCMP detachment is located. For over 20 years Lynn had not told of the torture she suffered because when she tried, she said, no one believed her. Despite this long lapse of years, late one night Lynn received a threatening phone call from a man who told her to “shut up”—to stop working with us. We witnessed Lynn call the Bible Hill RCMP detachment, leaving a message that was never returned.

The depths of misogynistic violence that men inflict against Nova Scotian women and girls must be appropriately named so their victimization reports can be understood. For instance, distinguishing an assaulter from a torturer is significant. Misogynistic attitudes feed the male assaulter’s exertion of power and control and violent behaviours; as well, misogynistic attitudes feed the torturer’s organization of their dehumanizing torture acts as Lynn briefly described. To illustrate these two levels of violence against women and girls we have listed the behaviours in the accompanying chart.

Systemic sexism and misogyny: Policing realities

This question of whether sexism and misogyny exists within the RCMP is justified. RCMP Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brosseau stated there is a culture of misogyny within the RCMP. Such a culture must be examined to understand how misogynistic attitudes influence how the RCMP as an agency responds to reports of male violence against women, or even think about women and girls as persons. A former female RCMP officer told us she often heard male officers use misogynistic put-downs by referring to pregnant female officers as “cunt guts.” Given that men’s violence can begin when their female partner is pregnant and the risks for femicide can increase, such language ought to raise red flags that sexist misogynistic attitudes exist in the day-to-day culture of the RCMP? How do such attitudes influence investigations of men’s violence against women and girls? 

In the 1995 article on the book entitled, Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence, only the Halifax Regional Police department and another municipal police department offered information about officers assaulting their partners. Based on American research 40 percent of male police officers admitted during a six month period they inflicted violent behaviours against their spouse and children. How this translates into Canadian reality is unsure. Perpetrators apply whatever efforts they can to prevent being exposed; we assume complaints can be circumvented with the same tactics used by non-police perpetrators. Such as applying pressure on a spouse not to file a complaint or maybe the Blue Wall of Silence shelters another officer’s actions that are criminal, corrupt, or brutal.  

One female police officer who had several intimate relationships with other police officers told us she endured violence. She described being shoved very hard, being physically battered when hit in the face, having blackened eyes, bloody lips, broken ribs, being brutally forcedly anally raped, and being strangled once.

Lynn, introduced previously, spoke of the police officers who came to rape and torture her when she was held captive by her husband and three of his male friends

Besides the reality that male police officers do commit violence within their ‘intimate’ relationships, a report by Pam Palmater highlighted that an RCMP investigation found their own involved in corruption—perjury, falsifying evidence, and organized crime. Additionally, Palmater references physical and sexualized assaults perpetrated by numerous RCMP officers, plus a culture of “bullying, sexual abuse and harassment.”  

This month Sara phoned to described being at the Bible Hill RCMP station. While there she explained she was born into a family that tortured and trafficked her all her life. And that she was in her early 30s before she got out, offering, she said, to help others if needed. Sara said the RCMP officer replied with, “We don’t deal with that.” Sara was the first Nova Scotian woman to ask us for support in her efforts to recover from decades of torture, trafficking, and other forms of victimizations including suicide-femicide conditioning. The mass killer’s female partner feared for her life which calls attention to the potential of femicide. One of our graphic writings about femicide in Canada was translated by Russian women into their Russian language. Women in Greece are uprising about the torture and femicide of Eleni Topaloudi. We are all angry, fighting back against systemic sexism, misogyny, and femicide that devalues and dehumanizes all women and girls and even degrades a woman’s normal pregnant physical form as a “cunt gut.” 

There is hope. This week a woman called us. She cared about her friend who had suffered serial physical assaults, including being awakened at night by the pain of being strangled by a violent male partner. This violent man made this threat: “You better get your daughters on birth control pills because I have plans for them.” Her daughters are pre-teens. This bystander friend felt responsible to speak of her concerns for her friend and daughters, and to offer her friend new knowledge about the risks of strangulation that can cause femicide.  

There is hope. Honest and painful Nova Scotian conversations are needed. Insights into types of misogynistic male violence domestically committed in Nova Scotia need to be understood so when men’s violence against women or girls are reported to the RCMP and spoken of in communities they will be taken seriously and not dismissed. What will it mean when we remove the abuses of power that systemic sexism has afforded male assaulters and torturers? What will it mean when the weights of oppression, shame and blame no longer exist to break the silence of getting honest about what male violence against women and girls means? 

What is the life and value of a woman or girl worth? Almost nothing if these hard and painful realities of systemic sexism, misogyny, men’s assaults, torture, and femicides are not laid bare on Nova Scotian soil in a federal-provincial inquiry or review. 

We can do this. 

Jeanne Sarson, MEd, BScN and
Linda MacDonald, MEd, BN
Co-founders Persons Against Non-State Torture (NST)
Human Rights Defenders
361 Prince Street, Truro, NS, Canada B2N 1E4
P: 1.902.895.6659 | C: 1.902.956.2117 | twin2@eastlink.ca

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  1. Thank you Linda and Jeanne for being there for those of us who are victims of Misogynist males and their abuse.
    I am the female RCMP police officer you speak of in your article above. The abuse I endured from male police officers in the RCMP was horrendous. When I complained to my managers about the brutal sadistic rape and the other assaults, they fumbled the “investigation” for seven years. They did NOT take it “seriously”. As a matter of fact, they ‘stayed’ the criminal charges against him and just weeks prior to having him face an internal hearing they withdrew the three most serious allegations. So this male RCMP officer received a little slap on the wrist, and in the board’s written decision, he was referred to as having a “promising career”. Then he went back into the police force as if nothing happened…to protect and serve other females of the public. How reassuring for you AND me.

    When I saw how the RCMP ignored the red flags of domestic violence and illegal weapons in the mass shooting in NS I was totally re-traumatized. That’s when I reached out to you for help. Supt. Darren Campbell said “the RCMP does take domestic abuse seriously and victims are believed”. I know for a FACT that is absolutely false because I have been there. When I called 911 after being slashed with a knife (because I wouldn’t have sex with my bf) the RCMP in Liverpool, NS treated me like the criminal!!! They did NOT follow domestic violence policy and they did not even take a statement from me until I made a huge fuss about how I was treated. It took them 6 weeks to take a statement from me and 6 weeks before they charged him. Even then, when he was placed on court-ordered conditions to have NO contact with me and to stay away from my house the accused continually called, harassed and stalked me. He broke into my house. I reported this to RCMP but they did NOTHING! I had 36 traced *57 phone calls to prove this man was still contacting me. The investigating officer did nothing when I turned this information over to him. When I reported my house had been broken into by this man the RCMP did NOTHING. By doing NOTHING the RCMP was giving the accused PERMISSION to continue to harass, stalk and potentially kill me, which is what I was terrified of. After all, he had just slashed my upper arm with a knife, 8 inches away from my jugular vein. The year prior he chased me out of the house with a hand scythe. Then on another occasion he told me he once held up a loaded rifle towards his brother next door. Unbeknownst to his brother, the accused was prepared to pull the trigger while his head was in the scope sight. The accused said to me “to this day I don’t know why I didn’t pull the trigger”. This monster was the same man who abused me. I reported these other instances to RCMP, but they did NOTHING. Thus why I was terrified when I saw just how “seriously” the RCMP were taking the knife-slashing incident.
    It’s one thing to have a flimsy piece of paper be your protection order, but it’s another when police don’t even act on it when the accused breaches it!!! So my point is, you can have as many laws or policies or papers in place as you want…none of it is any good unless POLICE DO THEIR DAMN JOB. Just as in the case of the mass shooting. RCMP had all the information they needed to get a warrant and seize those guns when brave Brenda Forbes came forth and spoke up. They also had enough information to initiate an investigation on the domestic abuse brave Brenda Forbes reported. But instead of doing their JOB, police had Brenda do their JOB and put her in harm’s way by doing so. Brenda is not a police officer. You do not ask the public to go around questioning potential witnesses for you…not if you’re serious anyway. What you do is get off your hindquarters and take this information SERIOUSLY. And the information that came in about Wortman wanting to kill a cop??? Look what happened to Cst Heidi Stevenson. In my opinion, Cst Stevenson and the other 21 victims would have absolutely been spared had police acted back then. But Supt Campbell says it wouldn’t have made a difference because they weren’t the same guns, blah blah blah…ok, and IF that’s true, the RCMP were told about an arsenault of illegal weapons he had anyway….so had they been seized like they should have, perhaps that would have put Wortman on notice. Perhaps he would have seen that the RCMP were serious and that they knew about his “police officer death wish”. Wouldn’t this have been preventative action??? Isn’t it the job of the police to PROTECT and SERVE???
    The RCMP is responsible for causing the serious harm and trauma to me that resulted from THEIR lack of concern and action. I will never be the same. I have no relationships with people since then and especially not with the RCMP. I do not like them. They cannot ever accept responsibility because I guess they feel they are too good for common folk and they are never wrong anyway. There are many skeletons hiding in their own closets and they need to remember that and be humble.

    I have not as much as held hands with a male in over 11 years and I will NEVER trust another male or RCMP officer ever again.
    The RCMP said WORTMAN was an “injustice seeker”??? That must be a new psychological term, because I have never heard of it as a reason for being a misogynistic, psychopath who abuses his partner, terrorizes people his entire life, leading up to mass murder.

    The true “injustice” is in how the RCMP takes violence against women so nonchalantly. It is in how the RCMP sweeps truth under the carpet. It is in how they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions and inactions. I am very angry at how I was treated by the RCMP. I will NEVER forgive them for how they treated me. I was a loyal, reliable employee until I got sick because of how I was treated.

    When women speak out against these injustices, we will get justice. Keep on speaking!!!!

    1. Certainly an eye opener.
      Thank you so much for giving woman a platform to tell their story.
      Maybe some day woman will be taken seriously, believed and protected from the monsters that abuse and torture them.
      Looks like it has to start with the police and RCMP.

      1. Cindi, Linda and I appreciate very much your comment about knowing that we are working to help create a safe space for women to tell their stories. This had been our goal from the very start. And yes it does appear police agencies need to be opened up to what their perspectives are and will be a necessary part of the inquiry. Cindi, thanks again for your reflections.

    2. Thank you so much for your powerful, incontrovertible comments and evidence of unspeakable misogyny and evil, Cathy. I hope you are among the principle speakers during the feminist-oriented NS inquiry urgently being sought now! And even if our leaders decline such healthy and threatening introspection, nothing can stop us from sharing our own stories as you have done so magnificently. I thank you!

      1. Hi Eleanor! Thank you so much! Yes, I absolutely see the need for any and all victims who are capable, to stand up and use their voices to speak truth. I am definitely using my experiences to push for a much needed inquiry.
        I was re-traumatized when I heard about how RCMP failed those victims in the shooting. They also failed Brenda Forbes, who was so strong to speak up prior to, and again, after the fact. I am so proud of her, she is a true HERO in my eyes. She did the right thing and was let down by the people who were supposed to act on her information. I hope she knows how brave she is and what an inspiration she is to victims of abuse, including me.
        In my case, I was caught in the cycle of domestic abuse…I couldn’t free myself because the man was such a manipulative, controlling, psychopath. I need to let other women know that it is not their fault when they find themselves in these abusive relationships. We are not weak, we are caught in that cycle of violence and we need to break free of it. How? Get support from women’s groups such as Linda and Jeanne, find a good psychologist or therapist, join a group for abused women, speak to someone from a women’s shelter. Share stories. See the patterns. Know the red flags. But most of all, LOVE yourself for YOU! Never allow a man to make you feel small. We are more than enough and we do NOT need a man to make us whole. Those fairy tales like beauty and the beast are make believe. We deserve better.
        I used to feel a tremendous amount of guilt and shame for admitting I stayed in those abusive relationships…but now I know I was only being human…I tried to help the man who couldn’t be helped whilst he tore me down and stomped me into nothingness with a smug look of satisfaction on his face. There is NO balance in this relationship and neither partner wins. Save yourself….get out and don’t look back. Be happy you escaped with your life. Give your nurturing to yourself for a change. Learn to set boundaries (that was a big one for me). But most of all, we need to stand TOGETHER and keep speaking out. No one should be afraid to tell their story. It is part of healing 🙂

        1. Yes you are so correct Cathy standing and speaking out is healing. It is an honour for Jeanne and I to be stand with you as you heal. You are an inspiration to others. Brava to you for your courage and caring.

  2. Concerning Lynn, it is extremely disturbing to know this has happened right here in Nova Scotia and not in some backwards part of the world where we usually hear of these horror stories.

    There is sexism in the court system. Even on the rare occasions that a man is brought up on charges, his version is almost always believed. In Halifax, male judges have decided that taxi drivers are allowed to rape their female customers. An Alberta judge (male) told a victim of rape that sometimes sex and pain go together.

    In the case of Jane Hurshman, who was tortured by Billy Stafford, the Crown was successful in appealing the not guilty verdict on the basis that her testimony only served to garner sympathy for the accused. Only men would have this heartless, callous perspective. If all police and court systems were female…

    1. Hi Erica, indeed the silencing and misnaming of many forms of violence against women and girls has served patriarchy well, but no more. As Linda and I say we can do this challenge knowing it will be hard work but worth every ounce of energy. Thank you for reading and responding to the article because it means that women’s victimization is no longer silenced. … Jeanne

  3. So true, and great point, Erica. Some Judges still have their biases and beliefs passed down from previous generations and they don’t shake them. It should not be this way in a court room when we trust that judges will use their legal knowledge instead of their own beliefs when hearing a case. I was absolutely angered one time when, in one of my cases that went to trial, the accused was acquitted and the teen victim was not believed by the judge simply because she did not immediately leave the residence where she was sexually assaulted!!! This young woman went there with a friend and her friend’s mother was coming to get them. But just because the victim sat downstairs in the kitchen waiting for their ride the judge felt she couldn’t possibly be telling the truth because had she been sexually assaulted, in his eyes, she would have run out of the house with her hair on fire!
    The judge was an older male, about 72 years old. I could smell his ignorance of sexual assaults in his tone and in his words. I wanted to jump up and scream at him!!! Discrimination among judges still exists and it needs to be eradicated!!! There is NO place for this in a court room.

    1. Cathy, so true there must be no misogynistic attitudes and patriarchal expression s of positional power in a court room where discrimination is not supposed to exist. It is always painful to experience these realities and they do not get forgotten … obviously as this one is filed in your memory. Sadly for you and the young woman which was another victimizing experience of injustice for her. We must do the work of challenging such biased sexism. Thank you for sharing your court room case experience Cathy.

  4. So who is drawn to become a police officer? There are three main profiles:

    A) those who genuinely care about peace, protection, and order.
    B) bullies drawn to the unearned authority that comes along with a uniform, a shiny badge, and a gun. Voila: Instant cover.
    C) co-dependents who do what they’re told, regardless of their conscience. Chronically insecure, they must fit in.

    A terrible social problem exists when the Profile of officers B or C is the same as the Profile of an offender.

    This riveting, heartbreaking article invites all Profile A officers to demand an internal inquiry. They are the only officers who will.

    1. Really liked your comment! What a lot of people don’t know is, the best people, like those in group A) are the ones who do not last in the force because they joined for a different reason than the force mandates. I fond this very sad as these are the compassionate, humble, patient, caring officers. They truly care about how others feel. They will use tact and respect when dealing with the public. The Group A officer does not see him or herself “better” than the public. They see themselves as regular people who simply have a job to do. Sadly, these group A officers trust in the RCMP too much. When they joined they had an expectation of their employer. They expected that truth and honesty was above all else, but over the years they learned that this job is FULL of liars and cheats and they play DIRTY without blinking an eye. The good officers don’t buy into the RCMP’s “beliefs” so they get harassed, bullied, discriminated against, until they get sick. It is such a huge let down to look back and see it for what it really is. The group A officers don’t need guns because they know how to talk to people. They don’t puff their chests out and feel like they need to teach a drunk person a lesson using unnecessary force like the other officers. The good officers don’t last long on the force. Very sad.

    2. Eleanor, agree with you that “Profile A officers” and all other good women and men must work together to develop a genuine “care about peace, protection, and order.”

  5. I respectfully disagree with the feminist lens
    In the case of Nova Scotia mass murder inquiry.
    As a woman myself I do not feel that this case is about feminism. There should be no bias where both men and women were killed. As the RCMP have stated after months of investigation. He was an “injustice collector” in that definition it has nothing to do with feminism.

    The traits of a injustice collector:
    Injustice collectors ruminate continually about the Bad People who have harmed them. They are preoccupied with the injustices that they believe they’ve suffered; and, as a result, they live in mental prisons of helplessness, hurt, rage, and the longing for vengeance.

    I feel this will be a distraction from the real problem which is the RCMP. That did nothing to stop the alleged killer, by not following up on previous warnings, their inaction of entering the crime scene in a timely manner, not setting up a roadblock, lack of training and not using the emergency alert system. This is what would have saved lives which should be the most important subject of the inquiry.

    I do believe there should be a separate MASS inquiry into the RCMP with abuse to women in their own departments and their lack of action to domestic abuse cases.

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