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At the Toronto Star, dogs do better than women

Dogs are more important to the editors of the Toronto Star than women dying at the hands of their intimate partners. That's what author and Sault native Brian Vallée was suggesting last night to a roomful of advocates fighting abuse against women.

Dogs are more important to the editors of the Toronto Star than women dying at the hands of their intimate partners.

That's what author and Sault native Brian Vallée was suggesting last night to a roomful of advocates fighting abuse against women.

"When I was about to release my latest book, The War on Women, I went into the Star out of some misplaced sense of loyalty or something," Vallée said. "I thought I'd give them this great scoop about these numbers and everything."

Vallée figured it would be front-page news.

Well, his story did get a single-column mention on the front page of the Star's living section, buried deep within the paper's stacks of newsprint.

It didn't contain the numbers that Vallée considered the heart of the story.

And in the days and weeks following, the Star's editors seemed more interested in dogs than women.

"I looked on the front page and saw a story about a dog," the author said, holding up a paper and pointing to a picture above the fold that appeared in subsequent days.

"Then I looked through it and found a bunch more stories about dogs," he said. "Big stories with nice colour photos."

The fact that more women in Canada died at the hands of the men they trusted between 2000 and 2006 than the combined total of all Canadian military and law enforcement deaths was relegated to the living page, where readers would normally look to find cute stories about how to dress your dog to avoid being lonely.

"There are really only three numbers that matter," Vallée told the people gathered at Algoma's Water Tower Inn for a community education forum entitled Understanding Domestic Violence.

"Those would be: who is in the graveyard, in the hospitals and in the shelters," he said. "That's more than 500 women who were shot, stabbed, strangled, burned, or beaten to death by the intimate males in their lives in Canada in that time period."

In 1987, Vallée released Life with Billy - the story of Jane Hurshman, an abused wife who took the law into her own hands.

Since that time, Vallée said, he's heard from many other women who've asked him to write their stories.

As heart-wrenching as those stories were, they were essentially the same story.

Over and over again.

As a journalist, Vallée wanted to move on to something else.

But he started to keep track of the stories and he started to realize things were getting worse, not better.

And no one was listening to the ones who knew.

"The 2,500 womens shelters in North America are our refugee camps," he said. "Inequality has only hardened and it's left women helpless."

While he was clipping stories from the papers and watching the pile grow, Vallée heard from Calgary music promoter Elly Armour.

Her health was failing and she wanted him to tell her story because she was upset by the number of women still being abused by their intimate partners.

She had once been a battered wife and as a teenaged mother of two with a third on the way, she shot her husband dead as he broke down the door to a room she was hiding in.

It happened in Nova Scotia in 1951.

She was charged with the capital murder of Vernon Ince.

Like Vallée, she knew not much had changed since then.

So her story became the one he used to pick up the battle again.

In the course of researching The War on Women, Vallée found there's a movement afoot in Canada to remove references to gender while feminists are demonized and funding to programs for equality are quietly cut.

"Women are still objectified in the media and we try to say we're equal but it's just not so," he said. "Calling it a 'war' on women is accurate and legitimate when you look at the numbers."

Vallée said that the fallen in this war are more likely to be ignored than honoured.

"This is just my little utopian vision - but what do you think would happen if, maybe a few weeks into November, Don Cherry were to hold up a picture of a murdered woman, maybe one with her children too, and tell the viewers about her?" he asked.

Maybe Canadians would be more likely to speak out against the abuse.

Maybe the murdered would be remembered.

Vallee described another page from his little book of utopian dreams.

He envisions white wooden ribbons, each about three feet tall, planted on the lawn at city halls across the country, each with a picture of a woman or child who's been murdered in that community.

"And each November, I see groups of people bringing them to Ottawa to plant them on Parliament Hill for the month," Vallee said. "But, if the media doesn't care, the politicians don't care," he said.

Inequality will harden even more and Canada will slip further behind other countries like the United States and India in its economic gender gap and more women will die at the hands of their intimate partners, Vallee said.

The only answer is education and advocacy.

We need to raise awareness and social consciousness of this issue like we have the issue of drinking and driving and to support abused women like we support our troops and our police officers, he said.

We need to make sure that fewer men abuse women and abused women have access to safe places to live and work and to the treatments they need to recover from that abuse.

This can come through education and advocacy that will lead to social and legislative change.

But right now, Vallée said, Canada is headed in the wrong direction.

After his presentation, Vallée stuck around to autograph books for some of the people who came to the session.

Okay, for a lot of the people who came to the session.

To learn more about Brian Vallée, visit his official website.