On an anniversary

The following is an entry I wrote a number of years ago for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the original online, user created encyclopedia).  I felt it would be appropriate to post it today, the twenty-third anniversary of the Montréal Massacre.

On the evening of 6 December, 1989, fourteen engineering students at l’École Polytechnique in Montréal, Canada lost their lives because one young man wanted to tell the world: ‘I hate feminists.’

The Victims: In Memoriam

Geneviève Bergeron, 21
Hélène Colgan, 23
Nathalie Croteau, 23
Barbara Daigneault, 22
Anne-Marie Edward, 21
Maud Haviernick, 29
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31
Maryse Laganière, 25
Maryse LeClair, 23
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
Sonia Pelletier, 23
Michèlle Richard, 21
Annie St-Arneault, 23
Annie Turcotte, 21

The Massacre

The gunman began by killing Maryse Laganière in a corridor. He then entered a classroom, demanded that the men leave, and locked the door. He shot each of the ten women in the room, continuing to scream his hatred of women and feminists. Six of the classroom victims died. He then wandered the corridors, offices, and a cafeteria on three floors of the building for 45 minutes, calling out ‘I want women!’ and shooting 17 more people – four of them men who attempted to stop him. After he shot and wounded his final victim, Maryse LeClair, he stabbed and killed her with a hunting knife. He then turned his rifle on himself.

The Aftermath

The gunman had a note in his pocket which listed nineteen prominent Canadian women he had hoped to kill. It is unclear why he chose to kill engineering students instead: his application for entrance to the same school had been rejected a few months previously; perhaps he saw these women as having taken his ‘rightful’ place in what had been the male preserve of engineering. He also made a statement in the note of motives:

Even if the Mad Killer epithet will be attributed to me by the media, I consider myself a rational, erudite person. Feminists have always enraged me. They want to keep the advantages of women while seizing those of men.

In truth, the epithet Mad Killer was applied at first: the Massacre was dismissed as an isolated act of a mad man, with the implication that it should be quickly forgotten. But very quickly the question began to be asked: ‘if he had singled out the black students for killing, or if he had walked the halls screaming ‘I want Jews!’, would we dismiss the massacre so quickly?’

The massacre was not dismissed. It became the catalyst and the focus of deep discussion of the scourge of violence against women. Every 6 December the massacre is marked across Canada as a national day of commemoration, most particularly at the memorial at l’École Polytechnique. As well as this, survivors of the massacre and families of victims spearheaded a long and successful campaign to toughen Canada’s already strict gun-control laws.

The gunman failed almost completely in his self-appointed mission. He did manage to murder 14 people he had blamed for his own shortcomings, but those 14 women are now heroes to the thousands of Canadian women who begin training in engineering and the sciences each year, and he opened the eyes of all Canadians to the violence that has held back more than half the population from making its full contribution.

The survivors of the Massacre have most often been forgotten in the annual remembrance events, but none who were part of the event were left unscarred. Students struggled with their own survival and many never returned to l’École Polytechnique. Sarto Blais took his own life less than a year after the Massacre, as he wrote in a note, because of his guilt that he did not stop the gunman. Blais’s parents in turn committed suicide, following their only son. In the wake of the 2007 shooting at Dawson College in Toronto, Monique Lépine, the mother of the killer at l’École Polytechnique broke her silence and reached out to the families of her son’s victims. On the 20th anniversary, she took part in a commemoration ceremony in Laval, Quebec, reading out the names of the fourteen women her son murdered.

L’École Polytechnique, while acknowledging that the Massacre is part of its history, wishes to emphasize the thousands of graduates who have passed through its halls since that evening in 1989. Dianne Riopel, another survivor, when speaking to CBC News, said of the gunman, ‘We have given him enough publicity. Out of respect for the victims, the killer should be completely anonymous’.

A very interesting case study of the Montréal Massacre can be found at gendercide.org.

Today, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, the Government of Quebec announced that it would move forward with a new Provincial gun registry to replace the one that was recently eliminated by the Federal Government

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One comment on “On an anniversary

  1. […] December I posted something I’d written On an Anniversary. Those who have read the piece or experienced the days following December 6, 1989 will recall that […]

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