Last Friday, around 150 Montreal students and community members marched from Concordia to McGill to advocate for safer communities free of harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault for people of all genders.
The march, called “Take Back the Night!,” aims to raise awareness of gendered violence and demonstrate solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
“Once you look around and you see that so many people share some of the same elements that are in your story, you realize that you’re not alone and that your voices together can become stronger, and together you can affect change,” said Lucy Anacleto of the Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA) at the march.
The CGA hosted the march as part of its “A Safer Concordia” campaign. Since 1975, the march has been held annually in cities around the world. Guests from groups such as Accessibilize Montreal, Women in Cities, Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ), the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), Quebec Native Women, and the South Asian Women’s Community Centre spoke at this year’s demonstration.
“A lot of women are shamed for talking about what happened to them [during an assault], and I think that just having a huge amount of people come together and march to take back the night shows support for survivors, which I think is really crucial to make people feel comfortable enough to share their stories,” continued Anacleto.
The Reproductive Justice League Choir kicked off the demonstration with some gender-empowering Motown songs. Having rewritten the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” as “You Can’t Coerce Sex,” the choir led the crowd in chanting that only a “passionate yes” means yes.
Speakers from Accessibilize Montreal, Women in Cities, and Quebec Native Women followed before the march began.
Concordia student Sammy Fogel told The Daily what Take Back the Night! meant to her. “[It’s] a space for women and allies to show that they deserve a space in public to be respected and to be admired as human beings.”
Guest speaker Frances Maychak, an external coordinator at SACOMSS, echoed this sentiment. “For some people, being in a public space can be a dangerous or scary experience.”
According to Maychak, Take Back the Night! aims to “build an awareness for people who might not experience that personally, and who might feel particularly safe in public space, in recognizing that for a lot of people who have experienced violence […] those spaces aren’t safe and we need to be working toward making those spaces safer.”
This year’s march focused heavily on sexual assault policies in Montreal universities. “Few Canadian universities have sexual assault policies, and when they do, they are usually limited in their scope. School administrations must actively promote consent and support survivors of sexual assault, not the perpetrators by turning a blind eye,” Anaïs Van Vliet, CGA Board member, told The Daily before the march.
“We want to take back our campuses to make them safer, but university administrations must also do their job, implementing policies and practices to make such campuses a reality,” added Van Vliet.
A student-led working group at McGill recently released a draft of a university-wide sexual assault policy, something that the university has never had.
The controversy surrounding the recently dropped sexual assault charges against three former Redmen football players was also addressed. “Sexual harassment and sexual assault in public spaces is part of the same system of heterosexist, racist, disableist, colonial oppression and ideology. It all stems from the same place as other forms of violence,” said a guest speaker from Women in Cities.
The efforts to combat rape culture also extended beyond incidents on university campuses. Many demonstrators marched holding signs related to taxis in light of the recent news that 17 women in 2014 alone had been sexually assaulted in taxis by drivers in Montreal. They condemned the response of the police – that women should not take cabs alone at night, especially when intoxicated – as victim-blaming.
One demonstrator explained that her sign was her response to those assaults. “We’re here to say that taxis should be a safe place and there should be no victim-blaming, and we need to put the blame back on the perpetrators.”
Upon reaching McGill, guests from the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, ASTTeQ, and SACOMSS spoke. SACOMSS external coordinator Jean Murray concluded this year’s march by expressing a need at McGill for “a [sexual assault] policy that is survivor-focused […] so that survivors are not left with two options: say nothing or go to the police.”