Three days after International Women’s Day, and mere days before words like “gathering” or “event” became taboo, the large conference hall at Library and Archives Canada filled with a curious audience eager to hear from Julie S. Lalonde, the well-known feminist trailblazer. Lalonde, who has worked with a variety of feminist organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence, is a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case. March 11, 2020 marked the launch of Lalonde’s memoir Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death and Life of Julie Lalonde, a compelling story about her struggle with intimate partner violence.
Guided by grace and journalistic prowess of Lucy van Oldenbarneveld, Lalonde infused humour, kindness and eloquence into a discussion about a theme heavy with saddening emotions. Lalonde told the story of how her relationship with her high school boyfriend, Xavier, became abusive when she was a student at Carleton University. The damaging relationship eventually turned into a decade-long ordeal of escaping a stalker. With much authenticity, Lalonde walked us through her journey of fear, depression, despair and anger. “It felt like having a shadow,” Lalonde recounted, referencing Michel Foucault’s concept of excessive surveillance, and observing how she ended up watching herself. Moreover, when being terrorized by a stalker, no news isn’t good news. “A quiet moment meant he was plotting,” she remembered. Let that sink in. Feel the chills.
Lalonde recounted how she moved apartments numerous times, and how she spent a summer curled up in her bathtub hidden from the threat awaiting her outside. Lalonde attempted to navigate a legal system that was supposed to be supporting her and standing up for her, but instead seemed to turn its back on her. “Good people can do bad things. Xavier [the ex-boyfriend] may have been funny and kind to animals and a hard worker but that does not absolve him,” said Lalonde. As her experience demonstrated, courts are badly set up and easy to manipulate, often judging perpetrators for who they are instead of what they did. “If the accused is innocent until proven guilty, then the victim should be considered right until proven a liar,” Lalonde proposed to the audience.
Lalonde thought the stalking would never end, that she simply had to accept its perpetuity. And then, Xavier died. He was killed five years ago in a single vehicle crash. Yet for Lalonde, the finality of her struggle took a long while to sink in. “It was so surreal, so sudden without closure,” said Lalonde. “Moreover, PTSD kicked in after.”
When Lalonde decided to share her experience, she found it profoundly cathartic to write her memoir. “I wrote for my twenty year-old self and also because there is not enough about stalking in the current discourse regarding violence against women,” explained Lalonde. “I wrote the book I wanted to read. We need to teach girls to be clear about how they want to and should be treated. We need to teach them about prioritizing being safe over being polite and trusting their gut over being nice.”
Despite the dread and terror she experienced, Lalonde has not ceased her efforts to relight her own spark. While the feelings of regret are real, Lalonde knows she is more than her trauma. Julie Lalonde is full of life, hope, and faith in the good in people and she has not given up on love.