Remembering the Polytechnique Massacre

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December 6, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Polytechnique Massacre. The École Polytechnique is the Engineering school of the University of Montreal. On December 6, 1989 a man armed with a semi-automatic walked into that school with the intent of killing as many female students as possible.  He ended up killing fourteen before taking his own life. He felt that the women were taking the place of men.

For Americans, remembering a shooting spree may seem bizarre because you get so many of them. But here in Québec, we don’t. In fact, Québec is such a non-violent society that even our revolution is known as the Quiet Revolution because it was carried out without bloodshed. And by that, I mean there was no institutional bloodshed unlike in France or Russia.

So Marc Lépine’s shooting spree targeting only women came as a shock to our society. Many were in denial of his avowed intent for years following the event, while others developed what we now call PTSD and needed counseling afterward, especially the male classmates of the victims because the killer had ordered the guys to get out of the classroom and they felt a tremendous burden of guilt for obeying the order (knowing in retrospect what happened in their classroom after they left). He didn’t just shoot women in that classroom but later went on to shoot other women in the hallways and the school cafeteria.

Now we are calling this a feminicide because although both men and women were injured, those who died were only women. I was also on the campus of the University of Montreal that day, though not in the same building and safely out of reach of the bullets albeit not of his hatred. 

Lépine had written a letter before he committed suicide in which he said he hated women for taking advantage of opportunities he felt were intended for men only. I’ve heard that he blamed his sisters not having been nice to him as they grew up for his hatred of women. Most siblings are not nice to each other as children, but that does not move all men to go on shooting sprees to get even with their sisters that way.

In the thirty years since the mass murderer left this earth, our society has moved on, and other women have taken the place of those 14 students in the classrooms and hallways of Polytechnique. If anything, there are probably more of them now than there were then although engineering is still a field where men outnumber women. In Medical faculties though, we are now seeing the opposite – women outnumber men.

At 5:00 p.m. on December 6th, a ceremony commemorating this targeted murder of women took place in fourteen cities in Canada, in addition to Montreal, where there are engineering faculties. They sent a light into the sky in memory of all those young women who died too soon. This sad anniversary reminds us that we still have a ways to go in the arena of women’s rights. We still need to actively engage in conversations surrounding women’s rights.

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Just to point out a fact, Marc Lépine had only one sister. Both of them died before their mother who is still alive. His sister whose name I don't know died of a drug overdose some years after him.