HALIFAX -- After what RCMP call “a significant assault” on his girlfriend, a Nova Scotia man went on a killing rampage, taking the lives of 22 people on April 18 and 19. Nine of his victims were male; the other 13 were female.

In the wake of the killings, some are calling for a closer look at gender-based violence and its often-deadly effects.

RCMP say the terrifying events of that weekend began when the shooter assaulted his girlfriend in Portapique, N.S. It was she who escaped and hid in the woods for hours, emerging the next morning with key information – that the killer was in a mock police car, wearing an RCMP uniform.

The victims of this tragedy are both women and men. However, Linda MacDonald, a member of the group Nova Scotian Feminists Fighting Femicide, says there is pattern here, which is also found in other mass killings in Canada.

“From one terrible private act that escalated, over time I imagine, with her relationship with him, now we have this horrible public tragedy. So we have to somewhere along that line, break that chain,” says MacDonald.

Last year, 136 women and girls died by violence in Canada. Eighty-seven per cent of the accused perpetrators were men. More than a third of the victims were killed in rural areas, or small communities, and more than half were in, or had been in, a relationship with their accused killer.

“It wasn't with a great deal of surprise that this link has emerged,” says Nancy Ross, associate professor of social work at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Ross studies responses to domestic violence. She says the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the problem.

“This definitely heightens the vulnerability of women who can't leave their homes. They can't leave even temporarily, and oftentimes don't know where to turn,” says Ross.

For Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, there's another important issue to discuss alongside gender.

“The number of police vehicles that he had, the fact that no one questioned that really speaks to his white male privilege,” says Bernard.

“If that had been other people, I think it would have been seen very differently.”

While there is no turning back time on the tragedy, Bernard and others say now is the time to have these difficult conversations.

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Nova Scotia RCMP said they were not aware of any information specific to misogyny or hatred towards women in relation to the case or that women were specifically targeted.


According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory, 136 women and girls were killed by violence in 2019. That is a correction of the 118 previously reported on their website