The Canadian government has poured money into supporting those who have experienced gender-based violence (for example, by funding rape crisis centers), but its efforts don’t seem to be doing much good when it comes to prevention. Bourgeois said that’s because they haven’t targeted the root cause: misogynistic thinking, and the persistent belief among some that men should dominate over women.
One group working on that issue is White Ribbon. The organization was founded in Toronto in 1991 as a reaction to the Montreal massacre. Since then it has spread to 60 countries, making it the world’s largest movement of men and boys dedicated to ending violence against women. Its strategy involves helping individual men review their own attitudes and behaviors, and then encouraging them to be good role models for boys, peers, and coworkers. White Ribbon also runs programs in schools and corporations.
“This is close to home for us,” the executive director, Humberto Carolo, said of the Toronto attack, “both because our office is just a few kilometers from where this happened, and because this follows in the path of the tragedies dating back to the Montreal massacre. … It’s young men taking their hatred out on women.”
Carolo sounded an optimistic note about a new strategy that Canada is launching to address gender-based violence; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2017 federal budget allocated $100 million to the cause. “The federal government has introduced a strategy for engagement with men and boys, which is pretty unique around the world,” Carolo said. “That points to the government’s commitment to address the root causes.”
Bourgeois was doubtful, though. She has already seen the government sink millions into promising-sounding plans only to watch them founder. In 2016, Canada launched an independent, $53.8-million national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. But now some families of the victims say they’ve lost confidence in the ongoing process, which has become bogged down in controversies, missed deadlines, and resignations.
“That’s painful and it leaves me with very little hope at certain moments,” Bourgeois told me. “That being said, I think maybe even if the government isn’t ready, Canadians are ready. #MeToo has galvanized women across the country. And after seeing what happened in Toronto, I can’t imagine Canada continuing to turn a blind eye to the death toll of misogyny.”
Even though Bourgeois said that for many years Canada did seem to largely ignore the death toll among indigenous women, she added that now, “people will be more likely to pay attention because this was in Toronto—in an urban center where there’s a lot of wealth. … Some lives are worth more than others in this country.”
That’s an uncomfortable thought for many proud Canadians, and many others around the world who perceive Canada as a paragon of gender equality and multiculturalism. The country has a lot more work to do—and the incel attack in Toronto is a reminder. When I asked Carolo what he felt his organization should do in response to the attack, he responded matter-of-factly: “We have to scale up.”