Why we need to remember the Montreal Massacre

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately. Some Montrealers don’t seem to know much or anything about a tragic event that’s come to be known as the Montreal Massacre. Today, Dec. 6, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women but I fear younger Montrealers especially don’t realize its significance.

It’s been 23 years since Marc Lépine murdered 14 women on December 6, 1989 at the École Polytechnique. He walked through university corridors and classrooms, separating men from women and calling the women he killed and injured “feminists.”  Lépine was under the impression that he had not been accepted into the engineering school (his acceptance letter arrived days later) and he reportedtly told the women: “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.”  Some of the women weren’t engineering students and some even told Lépine they did not self identify as feminists. Before turning his gun on himself, Lépine murdered 14 women and injured another 10 women and four men.

The shooting happened as darkness fell on a snowy Montreal December day. This was a time before the rapid transmission of information we now see on Facebook, Twitter and the World Wide Web. Early radio reports reflected the confusion Montrealers experienced. No one knew exactly what was going on at first, just that something terrible had occurred at the École Polytechnique.

At the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough council meeting earlier this week, Côte-des-Neiges city councillor Helen Fotopulos introduced a motion in remembrance of the Montreal Massacre and pointed out it happened in the Côte-des-Neiges section of the borough. She and Snowdon city councillor Marvin Rotrand spoke of the shock city councillors experienced that terrible day and the horrible realization that Geneviève Bergeron, the daughter of their city councillor colleague Thérèse Daviau, was one of the women killed. “The council became feminist,” as councillors related to the experiences of the fathers and friends of the murdered women. Fotopulos said. Both Fotopulos and Rotrand said Montreal city councillors supported efforts to honour the memory of the women who were murdered, to have a memorial set up in Montreal to honour them and backed the arms registry. “We will never forget what happened,” Rotrand said.

The Montreal Massacre was such a big deal for Naomi Klein, who grew up in Montreal, that as she explains here, it launched her political activism.

The Coalition for Gun Control came about because of the Montreal Massacre. The coalition’s lobbying led to the creation in Canada of a federal gun registry. But the federal Conservative government has nearly dismantled the entire gun registry (Quebec went to court for an injunction to prevent destruction of Quebec gun ownership records). Sadly and to the surprise of many here in Quebec, Justin Trudeau, who was considered a progressive politician and is a leadership hopeful for the federal Liberal party, recently spoke out against the gun registry and is now accused of flip-flopping on his stance. The coalition’s work has not ended. There’s still plenty of work to do to improve women’s safety and address gender-based gun violence.

The White Ribbon campaign is an initiative of men who are working to end men’s violence against women and it’s dedicated to the 14 women murdered in Montreal.

Last year on this blog I posted a great song by Stephen Fearing about the Montreal Massacre called The Bells of Morning.

Here’s another song I find moving. I don’t know much about this singer, except her name is mentioned in the YouTube comments as Mary-Anne.

If you care about preventing violence against women, please take some time today to remember the 14 women who died. Wear a white ribbon, put a dozen white roses on display, light candles, commit to donating your money or time to a women’s shelter or any organization working to improve women’s lives, work for better gun control. Do something in their memory.

3 thoughts on “Why we need to remember the Montreal Massacre

  1. I’m looking for a vigil to go to for December 6, 2013 in Montreal. I don’t see one on the internet. Do people meet at the memorial park Place du 6 decembre 1989 ?

    1. There’s a vigil happening today at noon at the Montreal courthouse. For other vigils, check with women’s centres on campus or try the communications departments of the universities (online). Also call the YWCA de Montreal, someone there would know. I’m sorry that this year I had so much crazy stuff happening in my personal life that I didn’t have time to research this year’s events.

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