Warning: This article contains potentially triggering discussion of sexual assault.
On the evening of November 5, roughly 200 people gathered at Norman Bethune Square for the annual “Take Back the Night!” march against gendered and sexual violence. The event was organized by Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy (CGA). A McGill contingent organized by the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) was also present.
“The first [goal] is to bring light to the fact that gendered violence is still an issue within Montreal and within communities everywhere. We’re here to advocate for safer spaces for everybody so no one feels unsafe walking home at night […] or being in any spaces at any time of day,” explained co-organizer and CGA volunteer Shayna Rosemarine, in an interview with The Daily.
“The other reason is basically to take back the Take Back the Night march. Because in the 1970s, when it was first organized, it was mostly just for women, and they weren’t very pro-sex work. So the idea here for us is to bring in all genders to oppose gendered violence, because we think […] unity is very important, as well as an understanding that sexual violence happens to all kinds of people,” Rosemarine explained.
“It’s important to show that people have power over institutionalized practices like rape culture.”
Speaking to The Daily in Norman Bethune Square, Roy, a first-year Chemistry student at Concordia, highlighted the persistence of gendered violence.
“I think a lot of people really think that it’s a safer world now, and that gendered violence really isn’t a big problem. But it really is, and it really shouldn’t be taken lightly. Yes, it is safer for, say, white women than it was twenty years ago, but for women of colour, and for trans women, and for [trans people] in general, it’s not that safe at all,” Roy said.
Another protester, Ryan, explained that xe had come to the event along with other members of a feminist collective at John Abbott College in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. “As somebody who is concerned for [women] and for myself, because I don’t identify as male, and I don’t always present as male, it’s important […] to weed out societal cancers like harassment and rape,” xe said.
“It’s important to show that people have power over institutionalized practices like rape culture. It’s something that needs to be spoken about […] and this is the way that we begin discourse,” xe added.
After roughly an hour of introductory speeches and chants, the marching began shortly after 7 p.m.. Protesters took to the street at the intersection of Guy and Ste. Catherine, then proceeded east, through Downtown, before turning north on McGill College and marching through the Roddick Gates to gather in front of the Redpath Museum.
Several police vans maintained a constant presence, surrounding demonstrators and clearing the streets ahead of them, but at no point did they attempt to interfere with the protest. The event was not declared illegal under municipal bylaw P-6, even though organizers had not disclosed their itinerary to the police.
“How many of you feel safe to go to the police to report a crime? I don’t. My current case is open, nothing’s being done. […] They’re not pursuing the men that have raped me.”
Once participants gathered at the steps of the Redpath Museum, more speeches were made by organizers and community activists. One speaker, affiliated with the CGA campaign Missing Justice, described her experiences of seeking redress in the wake of repeated sexual violence.
“There [have been] many times I’ve had to deal with the justice system. Many times that I have been raped. Many times I have been abused, assaulted, had men try to murder me, and it took me a long time to realize it’s because I’m Indigenous, and a woman,” she said.
She continued, “How many of you feel safe to go to the police to report a crime? I don’t. My current case is open, nothing’s being done. […] They’re not pursuing the men that have raped me. They are not […] seeking justice on my behalf. Perhaps it’s because I’m just another Indigenous woman. Maybe they don’t believe me. Whatever it may be, I know what happened, and I know […] that it was real.”
She expressed hope, however, in light of the recent announcement that Canada’s new Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, is an Indigenous woman. “Having an Indigenous woman on the forefront, fighting on behalf of us, gives me hope that this abuse will stop, and change is possible for the future.”