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A sea of flowers decorates Mel Lastman Square where a vigil for van attack victims is held in Toronto on Sunday. Last Monday, eight women ranging in age from 22 to 94 were killed when a man drove a rental van onto the sidewalk of a busy stretch of Yonge Street in North York, striking more than 25 people.

FRED THORNHILL/Reuters

Fifty-seven women have been killed in Canada so far this year − a death toll that spiked by more than 15 per cent in a single day last week after eight women (and two men) died in a van attack in Toronto.

“That’s one woman or girl every other day in Canada that’s being killed,” said Myrna Dawson, a professor at the University of Guelph and head of the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence.

The data came in a report published on Tuesday by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA), which was launched by the centre in December with the goal of cultivating a more nuanced understanding of why women are killed and how these deaths can be prevented.

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In 2016, according to Statistics Canada, 148 women were victims of homicide. In 2015, 175 women were killed, and in 2014, 150. No data are available for 2017.

While research on femicide has largely focused on the factors leading up to the deaths, one of the primary goals of the observatory – headed by Prof. Dawson – is to look at the “social and state responses” after they occur, including in the media and the courts.

women killed in canada

By province or territory, 2018, January-April

33

6

6

3

3

2

2

1

1

Ont.

Que.

Man.

N.S.

B.C.

Alta.

N.B.

Sask.

Yuk.

Note: Of the 57 victims, eight were Indigenous

Breakdown of the accused

Male partners

18

Strangers*

10

Parent/step-parent

4

Other family members

4

3

Acquaintances

9

Unknown**

Victim-accused

relationship not reported

9

*Including eight from the April 23 van attack in Toronto

 

**Two are possible femicide/suicides, four are still being investigated as suspicious deaths, three are homicides but police haven’t yet identified a suspect

molly hayes and john sopinski/the globe and mail source: canadian femicide observatory for justice and accountability

women killed in canada

By province or territory, 2018, January-April

33

6

6

3

3

2

2

1

1

Ont.

Que.

Man.

N.S.

B.C.

Alta.

N.B.

Sask.

Yuk.

Note: Of the 57 victims, eight were Indigenous

Breakdown of the accused

Male partners

18

Strangers*

10

Parent/step-parent

4

Other family members

4

3

Acquaintances

9

Unknown**

Victim-accused

relationship not reported

9

*Including eight from the April 23 van attack in Toronto

 

**Two are possible femicide/suicides, four are still being investigated as suspicious deaths, three are homicides but police haven’t yet identified a suspect

molly hayes and john sopinski/the globe and mail source: canadian femicide observatory for justice and accountability

women killed in canada in 2018, january-april

By province or territory

33

6

6

3

3

2

2

1

1

Ont.

Que.

Man.

N.S.

B.C.

Alta.

N.B.

Sask.

Yuk.

Note: Of the 57 victims, eight were Indigenous

Breakdown of the accused

18

Male partners

10

Strangers*

4

Parent/step-parent

4

Other family members

3

Acquaintances

9

Unknown**

Victim-accused

relationship not reported

9

*Including eight from the April 23 van attack in Toronto

 

**Two are possible femicide/suicides, four are still being investigated as suspicious deaths, three are homicides but police haven’t yet identified a suspect

molly hayes and john sopinski/the globe and mail

source: canadian femicide observatory for justice and accountability

Last Monday, eight women ranging in age from 22 to 94 were killed when a man drove a rental van onto the sidewalk of a busy stretch of Yonge Street in North York, striking more than 25 people.

Alek Minassian, 25, is facing 10 charges of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted murder.

Police have said they expect to lay three more attempted murder charges.

Tales from the Toronto van attack: The minutes that forever link the victims and bystanders

Toronto van attack: How you can help and what we know so far

In the moments before the attack, a post on the suspect’s Facebook page appeared to claim allegiance to an online misogynistic movement known as “incel,” or the “involuntary celibate,” and to a U.S. mass killer.

Police have not declared a motive in the attack, and said they will explore every possible avenue in their investigation.

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While this case was an extreme show of violence, Prof. Dawson dismisses the idea that it was random or anomalous.

“It’s horrible because of the volume of people killed, because of what people see as the randomness of these actions,” she said. “But what people don’t seem to realize is that on a regular basis, consistently throughout the year, there are women being killed and mowed down and shot for the same types of reasons. But it’s just not happening in this public way, and it’s not happening all at once, so the numbers are smaller and people don’t seem to see the impact.”

Of the 57 femicide cases in Canada so far this year, 33 were in Ontario (the most populous province). Six each occurred in Quebec and Manitoba, followed by three each in Nova Scotia and British Columbia, two each in Alberta and New Brunswick, and one each in Saskatchewan and Yukon.

At least eight of these victims were Indigenous women or girls.

Tina Fontaine’s legacy: Justice will come ‘from all of us’

In nine cases, a suspect has not yet been identified. A male partner was the accused in 18 of the remaining 48 cases − seven of them boyfriends or ex-boyfriends. Prof. Dawson said the statistics underscore the importance of legislation unveiled in Parliament last month to update the courts’ definition and treatment of intimate-partner violence, recognizing the reality and severity of dating violence.

Prof. Dawson said the observatory relies largely on media reports for its data, recognizing that some cases may not have been reported.

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“When we say 57, we’re saying that’s a minimum estimate,” she said.

Prof. Dawson said last Monday’s attack is a clear indication that more education is needed.

“We’ve talked a lot over the last week about attitudes. I mean, attitudes are [crucial] to prevention, and they’re the hardest to change. So we focus on trying to figure out how to reduce vehicles being used as a weapon − rather than focusing how we reduce misogynistic attitudes in young men and boys,” Prof. Dawson said. “It’s a harder thing to do. It takes longer. People want instant change … but instant change isn’t going to happen without the long-term change.”

In an e-mail statement on Monday, Heather Irwin, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Education, said that the Ontario curriculum “includes strengthened opportunities for students to learn about compassion, online safety, self-confidence, healthy relationships and consent.”

Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, said this type of education needs to be delivered by more than just schools.

“I think when everyone heard about this incident, and considered the gravity of it, it makes us all stop in our tracks. It really hurts our being that something like this can happen,” she said of the van attack.

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