Those were the words that 25 year old Marc Lépine proclaimed as he walked into a classroom at École Polytechnique (an engineering school at the Université de Montréal) on December 6th, 1989, armed with a semi-automatic gun that he had hidden in a garbage bag.
He ordered the 60 male and female students to separate by gender, forcing the men by gunpoint to leave the classroom. Only nine students remained, all female, all helplessly huddled together.
One of the nine women, Nathalie Provost, an engineering student, replied “we’re not feminist.” Bravely, she attempted to reason with Lépine, trying desperately to save herself and her fellow colleagues. We’re “just women studying engineering”, she replied, “not necessarily feminists ready to march on the streets to shout we are against men”.
Lépine shot all nine women anyway, six dying where they stood. He continued his rampage against women as he walked through the college halls, killing an additional 5 women and injuring several others before turning the gun on himself.
December 6th is now the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. It is a day to remember the victims of the now coined ‘Montreal Massacre,’ the mere 20 minutes that lead to the murder of 14 young Canadians, 14 aspiring engineers, 14 women:
Geneviève Bergeron, 21
Hélene Colgan, 23
Nathalie Croteau, 23
Barbara Daigneault, 22
Anne-Marie Edwards, 21
Maud Haviernick, 29
Barbara Klucznik, 31
Maryse Leclair, 23
Annie St. Arneault, 23
Michèle Richard, 21
Maryse Laganière, 25
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
Sonia Pelletier, 28
Annie Turcotte, 21
But even more importantly, December 6th has become a day to support all those who have been victimized through gender-focused violence by heightening awareness and calling for immediate unified action against this national epidemic.
Lépine chose to unleash his resentment on these female college students, but had hoped to brutalize a catalog of successful women, including a politician, Quebec’s first female firefighter, and Montreal-based journalist Francine Pelletier (she was #19 on his list). He chose to punish women for doing what they love, and being good at it.
Lépine may have murdered 14, but through them he took aim at all of us.
Perhaps he thought it was our fault that he had been twice rejected from entrance into the college. Perhaps he thought the women’s movement in its entirety, our battle for gender equality, had done him a disservice. Perhaps, as Francine Pelletier believes, Lépine felt it was our price to pay for crossing traditional vocational boundaries, taking on a ‘man’s’ job and succeeding at it.
Yet, this is not to say that Marc Lépine represents men; far from it, and without question, most men view the events of December 6th, 1989 as horrific, unjust, barbaric and, more than anything else, discriminatory. The majority of men are not Marc Lépine.
Some have argued that life has improved for Canadian women since 1989. We should, according to one author, stop utilizing December 6th as “an annual excuse for fevered breast-beating over the moral failings of society and the persistent inequality of women.” Apparently, we Canadians should “get a grip and move on.”
Speaking for myself, I’d really love to ‘move on,’ I would like nothing more than to say that violence against women has all but vanished, and that Canada has become a nation that basks in gender equality. I would be elated, truly I would.
But I can’t say that. Sure, we’ve made improvements, but there is still much to be done, particularly in light of the following facts:
- A woman is killed by an intimate partner every six days.
- Each year half a million Canadian women have reported an incident of sexual assault. It has been suggested that this accounts for only 10% of actual sexual assaults in the country, annually.
- New Brunswick, the province that I currently call home, has the worst rates of sexual assault in the country. Fredericton, New Brunswick, the city with the third highest rates (and where I reside), has, in response, considered constructing female-only parking spots closer to doorways and lit entrances.
- Nearly 600 Aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered as of 2010, causing the United Nations and Amnesty International to call for governmental action.
And is it any wonder, with sites like this one, that the violence goes on?
As time goes on, 23 years to be exact, many seem to have forgotten the importance of today. I’ve done my best to attend a memorial each year, regrettably missing one or two along the way. However, I have noted a terrifying trend: the attendance seems to be less each year. Also, I have noted a shocking realization as I conducted research for this article. It was the realization of just how many non-Canadians were oblivious of the events of December 6th, 1989; comments on a 2009 Jezebel article reflected this lack of international awareness.
Though those fourteen women were murdered over twenty years ago, we still struggle to ‘get a grip’ on changing the mentality that perpetuates similar violence. We can do that by coming together as a collective, men and women, all the while recognizing that it’s not ‘about us versus them’; we’re not enemies that need to be destroyed. Rather, we’re partners in this incredible project called life.
But perhaps Nathalie Provost says it best. Nathalie survived the shootings and was interviewed on the 20th anniversary in 2009. She did not see herself as a feminist that fateful day in 1989, but over the years, her opinion has changed: “I used to see feminism as a conflict between men and women, but it’s not that for me now…it’s making sure women have an equal chance.”
Days like December 6th remind us of that.
Photocredit MyName via the Wikimedia Commons.