December 6th has now been marked as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in honour of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre on December 6, 1989. Even though this is one of Canada’s largest fatalities, it is not talked about often because of the time that has passed. But what came from it, and its importance, needs to be remembered, because unfortunately violence against women is still very present in our communities today.
This massacre took place in Montreal, Quebec and started at about 5:00pm. Marc Lepine was the perpetrator and he was only looking to kill women in the university. During this time, women’s rights started to become prevalent in society, and not everyone was a fan of this. Some people, like Lepine, didn’t like social change and wanted to keep traditional values alive. The young man wanted to become an engineer, but was only conditionally accepted into the engineering university in 1986. Because he didn’t finish courses to enroll into the university, he ended up leaving school all together and start working in the kitchen of a hospital. He later went back to school, but then dropped his courses two weeks before completing them, never finishing them. He was never able to realize his dream of becoming an engineer. In November 1989 he received his gun permit, and went to go buy a semi-automatic weapon and 100 bullets. By the beginning of December he was going to the university and walking around, despite having no business there.
On December 6th, 1989 Lepine calmly walked into the university and sat down in a chair to wait around for 30 minutes before taking any action. At 5:00pm, Lepine started walking towards the second floor of the building and walked into a mechanical engineering classroom. When he got in, he yelled and ordered the men to leave the classroom, leaving nine women in the room. He yelled at the women saying that he was against women because he had been rejected from jobs because women were “taking them away from men.” In that room, he fired 30 bullets and left the women all laying on the floor. He proceeded to hurt 14 people, 10 women and 4 men, and killed 14 women in total. Lepine ended the massacre by shooting himself. Through this massacre, Quebec, Canada and the world realized that things needed to change for women all over the world. Although some argue that this attack was not necessarily an attack on women, based on everything he told students that day and how he was raised, this was a gender-based hate crime.
Although what happened at the school that day was a huge tragedy, what happened after needs to be carefully analyzed. On December 5th, 1990, a plaque was put in place on the outside wall of the university to remember those who had died. On December 6th 1991, the Canadian government declared that day would be annually recognized as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The White Ribbon organization was established by a group of men that urged other males to stand up for the respect of women in society. There was also a change in gun control on the federal level. But in 2012, the Canadian gun registry was abolished. Since 2018, Quebec has had a long-gun registry again, after much lobbying done. Last but not least, the way police procedures dealt with emergency procedures changed, making police officers act faster in these situations, and look at the mental health aspect of people. All throughout Canada there have been different monuments installed commemorating the victims, and there is now a scholarship dedicated to female engineers.
Even now, there is still much violence against women, especially Aboriginal women and trans women. Gendered hate crime affects everyone in some way, but as a progressive society we need to be able to shift this gendered hate crime into acceptance and care. One of my favourite quotes came from Andrea Dowkin who wrote about the massacre, “It is incumbent upon each of us to be the woman that Marc Lépine wanted to kill. We must live with this honour, this courage. We must drive out fear. We must hold on. We must create. We must resist.”
Names of the victims, may they rest in peace:
- Geneviève Bergeron, 21 years old
- Hélène Colgan 23 years old
- Nathalie Croteau 23 years old
- Barbara Daigneault 22 years old
- Anne-Marie Edward 21 years old
- Maud Haviernick, 29 years old years old
- Maryse Laganière 25 years old years old
- Maryse Leclair 23 years old
- Anne-Marie Lemay 22 years old
- Sonia Pelletier 28 years old
- Michèle Richard 21 years old
- Annie St-Arneault 23 years old
- Annie Turcotte, 20 years old years old
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31 years old years old