Opposition critics boycott Tory government's Polytechnique ceremony
OTTAWA - Opposition critics boycotted a non-partisan ceremony on Tuesday marking the 20th anniversary of the Dec. 6 l'Ecole Polytechnique massacre, saying they wouldn't stand alongside Helena Guergis, the Conservative status of women minister.
The Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs who sit on the House of Commons status of women committee argued that Tory policies have rolled back the fight for women's equality and safety.
They pointed to the Conservative government's elimination of the court challenges program and to the move to abolish the gun registry -- something that some Liberal and NDP members also support.
"We consider this (ceremony) a hypocritical gesture because her government has shown itself from the beginning to be hostile to all women's demands," said Bloc MP Nicole Demers.
Liberal MP Anita Neville said: "I find it difficult to stand beside a minister who chooses not to advocate for women, who chooses to follow the party line, who chooses to endorse the elimination of the long-gun registry."
The sombre ceremony in the House of Commons foyer was led by a senior bureaucrat from Status of Women Canada, and Guergis did not speak.
About two dozen parliamentarians and staff, including NDP MP Libby Davies and Liberal MP Judy Sgro, placed 14 white roses in a vase to represent the 14 women gunned down in 1989.
House Speaker Peter Milliken and Senate Leader Noel Kinsella made brief remarks. The Bloc did not send a representative.
Guergis, who worked for seven years as a rape-crisis counsellor, called it "appalling" to suggest anyone in the Commons did not support ending violence against women.
"I would just like to think that there are some things in politics that are above partisan games," Guergis said in an interview.
She noted that she had asked her agency's officials to contact the families of the 14 women from Polytechnique to invite them to attend, but all declined as they had at the tenth anniversary.
The boycott by Guergis' critics is a sign of the tensions that have built up over the last three years between the government and the opposition on the status of women committee.
The Conservatives scrapped the Liberal national childcare program, and more recently put an end to pay equity court fights by instituting a new regime that would transfer equal pay battles to the bargaining table.
Within months of coming to power in 2006, Harper redirected $5 million from the administrative budget of Status of Women Canada, closing branch offices and ending funding for women's research and advocacy groups.
The funds, plus an extra $5 million, were instead earmarked for programs that directly serve women, such as immigrant integration initiatives in major Canadian cities.
Those mandate changes did not sit well with the other parties, who argued that while front-line programs are important, women's advocacy groups still need support to bring issues forward into the public domain.
In 1991, Parliament declared Dec. 6 as National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.