Last Friday, my Luke’s Place colleagues and I awoke to a news story about a multiple homicide inside a home in Oshawa. Not surprisingly, our minds jumped immediately to the possibility – indeed the probability – that this was a domestic homicide. The police statement, that they were not searching for the perpetrator and there was no danger to public safety, was code for “this is a domestic killing.” For hours, the details that slowly emerged did nothing to change our thinking.
As time passed, the information shared by the police muddied our assumptions to some extent: multiple adults in the house, a fifth body found after the first four, one survivor – a woman – in hospital, an unfamiliar truck with Manitoba licence plates parked in front of the house.
“A happy family”
Neighbours shared what they knew of the family – all of it providing an image of a happy, loving couple and their children — which did not shed much light on what might have happened. After all, we almost always hear from neighbours at the scene of an intimate partner homicide that “they were such a lovely couple/family,” “he was the nicest neighbour you could ever want,” “he was a pillar of the community.”
We have learned over the years to place almost no credence in what bystanders have to say in these situations: our societal inability to understand the extent, depth and hidden nature of gendered violence within the family seems intractable.
By early evening, police were able to confirm that the people who had been killed in the house were Chris Traynor and three of his children, Brad, Adelaide and Joseph, as well as the shooter, Mitchell Lapa. Loretta Traynor, the wife of Chris and mother of the children, had been shot in the leg and was in the hospital. One child, Sam, was in Kingston at the time. Police identified the shooter as Loretta’s brother, who had driven from Winnipeg, seemingly with a plan to kill his sister’s family and himself.
While authorities have not yet confirmed a motive for the killing, it appears it may have had something to do with a dispute over a family inheritance.
Mental health issues?
Police have not released any information about whether or not Lapa may have been mentally unwell. There are rumours that he had been “off” in some way going back as far as his youth, but it is a mistake to put any more weight on such comments from past friends than should be put on those who think they know what is really going on inside the houses of their neighbours.
Obviously, anyone who would do what Lapa did is not at their most healthy mentally, but we should not dismiss his actions as simply those of a “crazy person.”
There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes a mass killing or shooting. The Wikipedia “List of massacres in Canada” includes killings of four or more people. Legislation passed by Barack Obama after the Sandy Hook school shooting, defined a “mass killing” as three or more people killed in a single incident.
It took four days for this label to be attached by the media to what happened in Oshawa. Why? Is it because the shootings took place in a family home? Because all the victims (and the shooter) were related to one another? Because there may have been a family “issue” lying at the heart of the event?
I think it matters, because the labels we attach – or don’t attach – to events affects how we understand them. A mass shooting that happens in the privacy of a family home can have systemic roots.
We commonly understand family violence to mean acts of abuse by someone against immediate family members: partner, child, sibling or parent. But, even though the Oshawa shooter was not a member of the immediate family, he was brother/brother-in-law/uncle to those he shot. And, probably, the issue that motivated his actions was a family matter: an inheritance gone wrong, at least from his perspective.
To understand and respond appropriately to what happened on Friday, I think we need to call the shooting both a mass killing and an act of family violence.
There are a number of definitions of femicide, all of which focus on the killing of women and girls because they are female, usually by men. Mexican anthropologist and feminist, Marcele Lagarde y de los Rios, in creating the word feminicidio, described it as the “theoretical framework for extreme violence against women and killings of women,” also noting that impunity because of a lack of an adequate state response to male violence against women needs to be part of how we understand this violence.
Lapa killed his brother-in-law, two nephews and one niece and shot but did not kill his sister.
Does that make what he did an act of femicide? I am still trying to figure that out.
Whether or not the Oshawa mass killing constitutes femicide, it is undoubtedly an act of misogyny.
Men who kill the children of their former partner are performing what must surely be the most extreme form of abuse against that mother: destroying the people she loves most in the world and leaving her to live with that for the rest of her life.
While the circumstances of Lapa’s actions are not identical to this, it is hard not to think that he had a similar goal: to kill his sister’s family and leave her to mourn their deaths for the rest of her life.
The slogan “First mourn, then organize” grew out of the December 6, 1989, massacre of women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, and organize is what we need to do.
It is time for Canada to get serious about gun control. Firearms-related crime increased by 42% between 2013 and 2017. Firearms are the most frequently used weapon in domestic homicides. Handguns should be banned across Canada. The long gun registry, eliminated by Stephen Harper’s government in 2012, should be reinstated. Proper background checks, including mental health investigations, need to be run on anyone seeking to buy a gun. Support the Coalition for Gun Control by checking out their website for action ideas or by making a donation.
Even more important, we need to understand that violence against women is much bigger than simply intimate partner abuse and sexual violence. Misogyny and patriarchy shape our institutions, social practices, public policy and laws. We need to see that abuse of any kind that is rooted in misogyny, patriarchy and male entitlement is violence against women.
Girls and women should not be at risk of harm from men, whether those men are their coworkers, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, husbands, boyfriends, brothers or uncles.
Note: I am taking some time off and won’t be posting blogs for a week or so. Stay tuned for my next post on September 22nd.