Pink crosses and a pair of women's shoes from a femicide protest, published in the New Statesman in 2016

Femicide: a crisis we tolerate

The media continues to make excuses for men who kill their families, and to downplay a national tragedy.

Last week, 33-year-old Jaël Cantin, a mother of six children all under the age of 12, was murdered by her husband in Mascouche, outside Montreal. Thirty-three-year-old Benoit Cardinal was found with self-inflicted injuries and is facing second-degree murder charges. Two of the children were in the home when the femicide took place.

A little less than a month ago, on Christmas Day, 60-year-old Yvan Almodovar shot his wife, 48-year-old Astrid Declerck and then committed suicide inside their downtown Montreal home. The couple was apparently in the middle of a divorce.

Before that, on Dec. 10, the bodies of 42-year-old Dahia Khellaf and her two boys were found by police when they went to their Pointe-aux-Trembles house to inform them of a relative’s death. That relative was her husband and their father, 46-year-old Nabil Yssaad, who committed suicide the day after killing them all.

A few months before that, on Oct. 22, 40-year-old Jonathan Pomares killed his two children before killing himself. He left their bodies to be discovered by his wife and the mother of the children when she returned to their Montreal East home after work. Police later revealed the couple was in the middle of a separation.  

Does it feel like the number on that femicide dial never seems to decrease, year after year?

It’s because it doesn’t.

48 hours till the next femicide

Barely a month goes by before another horrific murder or murder-suicide makes the news. The gory details, the ages, the circumstances, the social status of the family vary, but the story is always the same.

Women (and often their children) killed by the men who should have loved them the most. And for what? Revenge? Anger? Powerlessness? A need for domination? The patriarchal notion that they were someone’s property, and if they couldn’t have them, no one should?

The same sick scenario plays out time after time. I’ve written so often about femicide and domestic violence that I’m certain I’ve plagiarized myself by now. How many different words can you possibly use over the years to communicate the same horror?

A woman or girl is killed roughly every other day in Canada, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory. In 90 per cent of the cases, the killer is male. In most of those cases, the man was an intimate partner or knew the victim.

And yet, there we are… flabbergasted… always feigning surprise, always shocked by the violence and futility of these horrific acts. Neighbours testify to the niceness of the family, the cuteness of the kids, the normality of their everyday lives. Tearful candlelit vigils are held. “I never saw it coming,” they say in shock to the journalist reporting. How many news stories do we have to read about rapists, killers and wife beaters who look “normal” before we realize that femicide is committed by “average men” who have careers, go to work, wave at neighbours, play with their kids. People keep up appearances until they can’t. Victims keep silent until they scream.

Making excuses for uxoricide

As a society, we continue to downplay gender-based violence and femicide (or uxoricide, in the many cases where the victim is a spouse) as the exception to the rule, a family drama, a domestic affair. It’s something that happens behind closed doors and doesn’t concern us, something that should be worked out between the couple. “Passions are running high… “crimes of the heart…” “He’s lovesick…”

Even after they kill, we line up to provide them with excuses and explanations for their actions. After the latest femicide in Mascouche, one newspaper dedicated three paragraphs to letting us know that Cardinal experienced “intolerable levels of stress” while working at a youth centre, and also suffered from severe anxiety.

I rolled my eyes. While I’m not in any way dismissing his issues, I know and have interviewed women who’ve been treated abysmally by their ex husbands or boyfriends, who’ve endured terrible psychological and physical abuse at the hands of their partners, who’ve dealt with serious health issues and financial worries and emotional gaslighting. Not once did any of these women resort to killing their partners or children because of it. Why are we working so hard to justify femicide? Was the victim, his wife, a mother of six young children, not experiencing “intolerable levels of stress,” I wonder?

The media continues to downplay the gender inequalities and entrenched negative attitudes and stereotypes about women and girls that feed abuse, shame, denial and silence. As a society we keep saying that we don’t tolerate abuse, but the fact is that we do.

Meanwhile, marginalized and vulnerable women and girls — particularly immigrants, refugees, the Indigenous and the poor — have few options and limited resources.

Tragedy for all

Domestic violence is an epidemic and femicide — aka uxoricide — is a scourge. It affects all demographics, all ages, all ethnicities, all financial and social strata. It’s not unique to any one culture or race or demographic. Neither money nor education nor influence can protect you. We continue to see victims from all walks of life.

I’m also tired of racist dog whistles. Those who only wring their hands about femicide when it’s committed by religious or cultural minorities or recently arrived immigrants don’t actually care about femicide — they’re just racist. Women’s shelters tell a very different picture, and sadly, plenty of Canadian-born white men abuse, rape and kill their partners, too.

Melpa Kamateros, the director of Montreal women’s shelter Shield of Athena, recently told City News that “although we worry about the cases that present themselves at our shelter and at our centres, what we worry most about are the other 70 per cent that have not come forth, that have not asked for assistance.”

I worry about them, too. ■

Resources

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, here are some available resources:

SOS violence conjugale (1-800-363-9010)

Crime Victim Assistance Centre (1-866-532-2822)

Assistance aux femmes (514-270-8291)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

You can find the nearest shelter at Women’s Shelters Canada.

If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

To read more columns by Toula Drimonis, see our Editorial section.

About Cult MTL

Cult MTL is a daily web and monthly print publication focusing on Montreal culture.

We cover what’s happening in the city and beyond, from art to nightlife, politics to business, restaurants to style.

Along with interviewing local and visiting artists, promoters and entrepreneurs, we feature analysis and criticism by our editorial staff and crew of columnists and freelancers, compile comprehensive event listings, curate a daily To-Do List and run the annual Best of MTL readers poll.