Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of emotion that we are reminded today of a cold and snowy day, five years ago, when 14 female students of l'École polytechnique de Montréal were shot and killed by a young man who had a visceral hatred of women, and feminists in particular. These women, like many others, had families, friends, hopes. Such senseless acts have sounded a call, a heart-rending call, in Quebec and Canada, and even had an echo in the United States.
Violence against women must stop. The word was out before this tragic incident, but the atrocity of these murders created a new awareness of a reality experienced by a great number of women.
From then on, all forms of violence against women were to be seen under a much harsher light. For instance, a harder and more serious look was taken at one of the most revolting aspects of our society. Conjugal violence must stop and we must take all the necessary steps to stop it. Spousal violence is widespread in Quebec and Canada. The figures are alarming. Let me just quote a few here. This fall, Statistics Canada reported that 29 per cent of women who had been married or in a common law relationship were physically or sexually assaulted by their spouse at one time or another in their life together.
It is reported that 21 per cent of spousal assaults occur when women are pregnant. Physical abuse may or may not be accompanied by psychological abuse. The blows, injuries, death threats, and humiliations leave permanent psychological scars in women, as well as in the children who often witness and are themselves victims of the abuse.
Since the second half of the 1970s, homes for battered women have mushroomed. The care and services they provide unquestionably meet a fundamental need in our communities. However, the issue of funding is much thornier and the financial support they receive from the federal government is far from adequate. Funding programs for housing that used to help these shelters open up new places for battered women now have no budget. This government decided instead to offer public funds to private owners.
Last February's budget did not provide any financing for a campaign to address violence against women, despite the formal promise contained in the red book. Nevertheless, all provincial governments as well as the federal government must do even more to promote awareness and spread information in order to eliminate violence against women.
Another statistic involving women has to do with firearms. Firearms are the weapon of choice used in spousal homicides. Between 1974 and 1992, 42 per cent of women killed by their spouses were shot dead.
In this context, Bloc members, like most Quebecers and Canadians, eagerly awaited the bill on how the federal government would effectively control firearms. Unfortunately, the Minister of Justice was rather timid in announcing a policy statement on gun control. Surprisingly enough, despite the urgent need for gun control, this bill will be implemented over the next seven years until 2002.
We also fail to understand why all 4,000 AK-47 and 6,000 FN-FAL owners will be allowed to keep these weapons for the rest of their lives. All 555,000 Canadians who own .25 or .32
caliber handguns or 105-mm guns will also be able to keep them until they die.
Heidi Rathjen is to be commended for her determination and her work in the Coalition for Gun Control, which helped highlight the importance of controlling guns in Canada and Quebec. Her crusade will not be in vain.
The victims and survivors of the massacre at the École Polytechnique will live in our collective conscience for many years to come. We must not, however, forget that this violence still goes on on a different scale, often far from the spotlights and the cameras.
In 1993, 63 women were killed by their spouses, 49 by their legal or common law husbands and 14 by separated or divorced spouses. Another 63 roses could have been laid at the entrance to the House of Commons and in front of all provincial legislatures.
Every time an injured woman seeks refuge in a shelter for battered women, every time a woman decides to sue her abusing spouse, every time a woman leaves her home to start a new life, it is another step forward in the campaign to eliminate violence.
On December 6, 1989, 14 students at the École Polytechnique were silenced forever, but we cannot remain silent.