Facing the Horror: The Femicide List
by Mary Billy
British Columbia, Canada
It became clear to me as I created the Femicide List that there is an underlying streak of outrageous woman-hating in Canada. The sole reason I did it, really, was to make the murdered women and children real to other people. Be careful before you read the List - so many were stabbed and burned, others were mutilated, suffocated, shot - they will become real to you when you read it.
Written by Chris McDowell in conversation with Mary Billy, 2004
The Femicide List is a record of the women and children who have been murdered in Canada. For the first years names were only collected of murders since the Montreal massacre, but as the issue became more public, stories of murders that happened before then began to be published in papers and talked about on TV. These were added to the list. It includes, when possible, the victims' names and ages, the circumstances of their murder, cause of death, and whatever information is known about the murderer and ensuing court case, if there was one. The list begins with the names of the fourteen women murdered in Montreal, December 6, 1989.
'The murder of the fourteen women in Montreal galvanized people across Canada. It brought clarity to what was happening to women. Before that tragic event no one seemed to realize how many murdered women there were. People thought that the murder was personal to that woman; she was a wife, a daughter, it was drug related or prostitution related, it was some guy who was mentally ill. Women sheltered themselves from the violence by thinking it was not possible for it to happen to them.'
'The massacre in Montreal opened my eyes. The fourteen women were killed only because they were women. The murderer accused them of being feminists, said they were changing the world, impinging on men's domain. There is deep anger in that way of thinking, and he expressed a cultural hatred against females. Just think about it; the worst thing you can say to a little boy is that he is acting like a girl. I've heard it said, 'The one thing that is most important to men across the board, is that they come first and women come second.''
'The massacre was an act of jealousy. He had applied to enrol in the engineering program and had been rejected, so he blamed women for taking what he thought of as his place. What was most significant was that the killer did not know the women he killed. On December 6th 1989, he particularly picked out the women to kill. The massacre finally turned our heads around and a number of us realized, 'Hey, there is a war against women in this country.''
Mary Billy created the Femicide List in the small town of Squamish, British Columbia, working alone without funding for ten years:
'At first I would cry when I added another woman's name to the list. Later my feelings changed and it has been many years since I cried; instead the entries made me roaring angry. As the List grew I became passionately concerned about the missing women on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, realizing years in advance of police acknowledgement that a serial killer had to be preying on these women. Creating the list you can't help but see patterns in what you're writing...'
Mary received moral support for her work, and it was distributed for use to some women's centres and schools across Canada. “I'm very concerned about these women's deaths and no one seems to care because they are just women, they must have done something wrong." Mary believes somebody has to do it. She quotes Laura Bonaparte, one of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina: "Where there are no names, there are no deaths, in every country of the world." Eventually Mary Billy developed heart trouble and became too ill to continue. When Mary handed the list over to her successor Gwynne Hunt, there were 1,850 entries of the murder of women and girls, and a separate list of 70 boys. There are now over 3,000 names.