Joy Ikede“We are so much individualistic that we don’t want to interfere in other people’s lives… (But) if you feel there is something bad happening, confide in somebody and say, ‘Look, I don’t think this behaviour is right.’”

On December 6, 1989, Joy Ikede was working at a university in her Nigeria, looking forward to moving with her family to Canada. She taught sessionally at UPEI for many years before becoming the International Student Advisor there. She was an active volunteer for many women’s and multicultural causes and recently moved to Ottawa.

What do you remember from December 6, 1989?
December 1989, I was still back in Nigeria because I came to Canada in the spring of 1990. But it was a shock that someone could just go into a college and just kill women. And these are people he didn’t know before.

I was just feeling, how safe is it then? If people can’t leave their home and go to college or any type of school and feel safe? And how could anyone have done this, and without anybody stopping him? It broke my heart, and I just thought how unsafe the world has become, if people are not safe at home, not safe at stores, not safe at schools.

And I thought, being women, what have women done to deserve this type of thing? It was going through my mind. For a few days, I didn’t feel too happy.

(When I came to Canada in 1990,) somehow the massacre didn’t play a role in my thoughts. Six months out, people weren’t talking about it. It was during the anniversary that people started to talk about it.

Then, PEI felt like pretty much a safe place. I wasn’t worried about safety. It didn’t cross my mind that something like that might happen in PEI at that time.

Do you remember the first memorial service at UPEI?
I didn’t go to the service, but I remember something on TV, and they showed that sad incident, and it was a sad day for me. I recall them replaying the scene again with stretchers… and women running helter-skelter and not knowing where to turn, and then everybody in shock. I was thinking that type of thing shouldn’t happen again.

Women shouldn’t have to go somewhere worrying about whether they would come back safe. People shouldn’t send their children to school, whether elementary or high school or secondary or college, worrying whether they would come back home alive. It is not a good thing at all for a society to be worried about the safety of everyone, and especially for women. What have women done? Why should women be hated? Why should anyone hate anyone? It is not a good feeling to have.

I just feel like the government and parents—everybody has something to do so that we feel safe in this world and do what is important, and no one will be afraid that someone could shoot them at any time.

What is significant to you about remembering the Montreal Massacre? Are there lessons we have learned?
I’ve been watching events be commemorated—and it is just my feeling—that at the time something has occurred, everyone is talking and concerned—and, in time, everybody forgets.

I just feel like this is a problem that everyone should address, within government, federal and provincial; individually; and at the local level, too. Even in homes. It is in what we do at home that we show our side, and it is how we bring up our children and the life we live at home that will lead our side.

As a Christian (and this is what lives in my family and my life), if you are a Christian, or if you have any religion, there is no religion in my mind that encourages people to go and kill and hit… We should be loving every human being the way God loves us. Whether you are a girl or whether you are a boy, we are all human. And the love of God should lead us to love everybody.

What I have learned from this society, is the fact that we are so much individualistic that we don’t want to interfere in other people’s lives. So if we find something happening that is bad, we won’t say anything. If someone is behaving in a way that is not good, we don’t say anything. And to that I think there is something bad.

If you feel there is something (bad) happening, confide in somebody and say, “Look, I don’t think this behaviour is right.” And people could come and check into it.

But when you let things go because you don’t want to interfere, because you’re not going to do something—you see it, but you don’t want to interfere, you don’t tell anybody until something happens, and he kills somebody… They say, “Oh, the signs were there.” But you saw the signs. Did you report it to anybody?

If someone says, “Yeah, you saw it, but why didn’t you say anything?” And my answer is, “Because it wasn’t any of my business,” we shouldn’t live in the world like that. We are supposed to be our brother’s keeper.

I remember growing up, if you were going somewhere, you didn’t worry because your neighbour would look out for the children. They would keep an ear or an eye. If they were doing something wrong, the neighbour could go and challenge them, or whatever. But the world is not like that anymore. Even in my home country, it is not like that anymore. Everybody is keeping to themselves, and the world is not getting any better.

What lessons have we learned from the Montreal Massacre? Are there any things we’ve learned that would help end violence against women?
That’s a tough one, because it is still happening. So if we’ve learned something at all, I don’t know what it is, if it’s still happening. If you want to learn something from a situation, you have to stop that situation from happening again.

But things are happening now against women as they did before.

So I think some topics should be taught in schools, and children—even in daycare, as long as they are able to talk and understand the situation—they should be taught to not be so aggressive against others. It doesn’t matter if it’s the same sex or another sex. They should be taught to be very, very gentle with the other person, with that boy or girl. How to love genuinely. How to care genuinely. Not to be selfish. Not to be greedy. How to share.

All those virtues should be taught to our children right from when they are babies, not to say, “Oh, he’s just a baby!” or “Oh, boys will be boys,” or “Oh, girls will be girls!” We are leading them to a more dangerous world if we do not teach what is right with our children at home.

And then at school, teachers should be given the authority to mould the children that are in their classrooms as well. Between teachers and parents, when I was growing up that is what they did. If your child misbehaved at home, you’d say, “I’ll tell your teacher,” and the child would say, “Oh, Mom, please don’t.” And if the child misbehaved at school the teacher said, “Oh, I am going to tell your parents,” and the child would say, “Please teacher, don’t.”

Children need that: the teachers and the parents working together. But now, if a child misbehaves in school, he or she is punished or chastised and the child goes home and the parents are angry, and they blame the teacher. I don’t understand that.

When you look, there are now a lot of education and programs to prevent violence against women. Are things improving in some ways?
It’s a big question. I’m not exposed to the world outside my home to see what is happening in offices and all that. I was in the university community.

I tried—because we had students from different cultures and especially cultures where women and men were not blending—I tried during orientation to tell them, this is a different situation (in Canada). Everyone is working together, whether a man or a women. And whether in your culture you didn’t talk to women in the same classroom or not—this is going to change, because the culture here is different.

I tried to make everybody understand that they were equal, as students. In my own little way, I tried that.

I don’t know whether we have improved from what had happened in the past: if we had learned our lesson, or if we just go on the way we did. I couldn’t tell you how much progress has been made.

Women are speaking out more. It is taking more time for the men to listen… But because women are speaking out more now, people are more aware of what is happening, even if some people would still deny it.

I’m happy for the fact women are no longer silent. So that’s an improvement. And, definitely, I see an improvement in the way people are thinking… At least there is some movement forward, and I hope it holds.

* This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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