Fourteen pairs of shoes at 14 place settings were displayed across the Royal Military College in Kingston on Dec. 6 to honour the memory of 14 women who were murdered at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989.
The RMC displays were part of the annual National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. This day takes in account the horrific murders of 14 young women killed simply because they were women seeking higher education.
“I think it is vital for every post-secondary institution across Canada to protest that kind of prejudice every single year,” said Dr. Erika Behrisch Elce, an associate professor in the English Department at the RMC and organizer of the displays.
Elce believes it’s especially important for the RMC to shed a spotlight on this issue with the recent push to honour women equally in the Canadian Armed Forces through acts like Operation HONOUR.
“The military has traditionally been a male dominated and male oriented and highly masculine culture, and we’re changing that slowly, but it needs greater awareness of the issue that surrounds biases against women in certain industries to certainly change it,” commented Elce.
Elce was inspired to do something at the RMC on Dec. 6 after attending Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn’s “It’s Never Okay” summit that focused violence against women and discussing the National Day of Remembrance with a fellow attendee.
Last year the RMC displayed 14 place settings in the senior staff mess and cadet dining hall to recognize the day.
This year, however, Elce decided to get the entire RMC community involved and asked students to donate pairs of shoes that would be part of the display. She received an overwhelming response that allowed the school to have four displays this year.
“It was really affecting. The displays were really powerful,” said Elce.
Besides the senior staff mess and the cadet dining hall, the pairs of shoes along with portraits of the 14 women who were killed were displayed in a glass case in the library and outside of Elce’s office, a place that students often walk by on their way to their classrooms.
“The women were isolated in a classroom and they were killed in a classroom. That space of the university where students explore ideas and meet each other and grow is supposed to be a safe place,” stated Elce.
Elce kept receiving donations of shoes well past the week-long displays and so she and LCol. Arthur Jordan, a fellow organizer, donated the shoes to a Kingston women’s shelter.
Elce hopes that next year they can build on the community engagement and further shed light on this issue.
Other bases across Canada also held events to recognize the National Day of Remembrance. 9 Wing Gander recognized Dec. 6 during the Wing Commander Meeting and flags were flown at half-staff. Flags were also flown at half staff at 15 Wing Moose Jaw. 16 Wing Winnipeg held a vigil at the MFRC, and 19 Wing Comox held a seminar facilitated by the Wing’s Defence Women’s Advisory Organization.