Editorial: Remembering the women of École Polytechnique

Shutterstock

This Friday marks the 30th anniversary of a mass shooting in Montreal at an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal that would reverberate throughout the nation. On December 6, 1989 a heavily armed man marched into École Polytechnique, ordered the men in the room to leave and sent women to the opposite side of the room. Announcing he was combating feminism, that man opened fire on the nine defenceless women standing across the room. He then wandered the hallways for another 20 minutes singling out women targets. When the shooting was over, 14 women were murdered and a further 14 people were injured—10 women and four men.

We will not name that man, though his name will live forevermore in infamy.

The victims of this misogynistic atrocity whose lives were tragically cut short simply because they were women who sought to aspire to the male dominated field of engineering deserve to be remembered. They were Geneviève Bergeron, 21, a civil engineering student; Hélène Colgan, 23, a mechanical engineering student; Nathalie Croteau, 23, a mechanical engineering student; Barbara Daigneault, 22, a mechanical engineering student; Anne-Marie Edward, 21, a chemical engineering student; Maud Haviernick, 29, a materials engineering student; Maryse Laganièr, 25, a budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department; Maryse Leclair, 23, a materials engineering student; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, a mechanical engineering student; Sonia Pelletier, 28, a mechanical engineering student; Michèle Richard, 21, a materials engineering student; Annie St-Arneault, 23, a mechanical engineering student; Annie Turcott, 20, a materials engineering student; and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, a nursing student.

These young people deserved a better future.

In the aftermath of the attack several of the survivors took their own lives, unable to recover from the shock and grief of what they had witnessed. 

The killer’s attack might be seen as the work of a deranged and extremely disturbed individual, the proverbial act of a madman, but his motivation and upbringing were deeply steeped in the society in which he grew up and developed his personality, a society that helped nuture, legitimize and eventually assisted in building up those misplaced grudges against women that influenced his eventual decision to commit suicide, taking as many accomplished women with him as he could.

Too many vestiges of that society remain today.

The ongoing and growing numbers of murdered Indigenous women and girls, and two spirited people, stand in unmuted testimony to that fact.

There are still countless incidents of domestic violence that occur in our communities, acts of violence most often committed by men, that go unreported or under investigated due to a long-ingrained ethos that places less value on the lives and safety of women.

The rise of the incel movement, a movement where men place the blame for their unwanted virginity on women in general instead of their own odious and self-centred personality, is just one, albeit currently particularly high profile, example of that societal dysfunction which devalues the lives of women.

We have come a long way in the past three decades, but each and every day police reports across this nation clearly illustrate we still have a long way to travel on the path to a just and civil society.

We as parents must seek to instill in our children that violence, and particularly violence against women and the vulnerable, has no place in our lives. This isn’t an example of “political correctness” in a world gone soft. Cowardice has never been in vogue, even among the uber macho, and what happened in Montreal 30 years ago was cowardice of the very worst kind.

Today’s children need to be taught to hold basic respect for those around them, no matter their gender, orientation, race, colour or creed. It begins at home and it begins by example.

Let’s all do our part to ensure that no families in this nation must suffer the grief and agony of learning that their child has died simply for being the wrong gender.