It has been thirty years. Thirty years. Thirty years since a man with a gun entered L’École Polytechnique (now the Polytechnique Montréal), part of the Université de Montréal system. I refuse to utter this man’s name. I refuse to give him the infamy he so desperately craved. I refuse to accord him respect. He was a pathetic little man, a loser. But he didn’t see it that way. He thought that feminists had ruined his life. And so he separated the men from the women in the classrooms of the school. And he opened fire. In total, he shot 28, including four men, killing fourteen women before he took his own pathetic little life. I hope he’s rotting in Hell. I hope the Devil uses him to roast his marshmallows.
I was a kid on 6 December 1989. I was 16. And I lived at the other end of the country, in the suburbs of Vancouver, in high school. That day was like any other day, it was cold and rainy, as nearly all days are in Vancouver in winter. This was before TVs in schools. This was before anything like that. And so when I got home from school that day, the news was on, and my mom was pale in front of the TV. The shooting happened just after 5pm Eastern. That was 2pm Pacific, and so now it was close to 4pm in Vancouver, or 7pm in Montréal. At this point, no one knew anything, other than there was a shooting at the Polytechnique.
The news of what happened was waiting for us the next day, which was another cloudy, wet Vancouver day. My mom and I were stunned. Unable to speak watching the news unfold on the CBC. My sister came into the living room and sat down. All I can remember that day is that I was cold. Very, very, very cold.
I already knew about violent misogyny, and had learned about this at a very young age. My stepfather was a violent man with a substance abuse problem and I had seen him knock my mother around many times. I was usually the one who called the cops. But I also knew when the cops got there, next to nothing would happen. They always came in pairs, a man and a woman. The male cop took the Old Man to calm him down and the female cop dealt with my mom. More often than not, the female cop asked my mother what she did to provoke him. When the male cop returned, he asked the same thing.
So I knew the score at a young age. But there is domestic violence and then there is a misogynist with a gun killing fourteen women in a rampage. This was Canada. We don’t do mass shootings. Off the top of my head, I can think of four in the past thirty years in Canada, including this one.
No one had answers in December 1989, too shocked we were to even begin to comprehend how this happened in the first place. How come he was allowed to have a gun? How come no one saw he was losing his mind? How come nobody stopped him before he could do this? How come those women had to die simply for being women in an engineering school?
Even now, thirty years on, I feel numb when I think of that day. And so, each and every 6 December since 1990, I have stopped to think about the so-called Montréal Massacre. On my own blog, I have written about the shooting every year. In the years since, we have become much more jaded in Canada. If this happened today, we would not be surprised. We have become accustomed to misogyny in the world, even if we abhor it. People have been making excuses for the gunman for 30 years now. There’s always an excuse to explain away violent misogyny, it appears.
But there is none. There is no excuse for violent misogyny. There is no excuse for misogyny. There is no excuse for sexism. None.
Each 6 December I think of those fourteen families torn asunder on this date in 1989. Each 6 December, I think about those fourteen women whose lives were cut short. And I think of the fourteen survivors. And their families. There were not just twenty-eight victims that day. Each of those people was a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a classmate. they were part of a constellation of networks. On 6 December 1989, those constellations were shattered. And they remain so thirty years on, including for the survivors. How do you make peace with the fact some guy shot you because you are a woman? Or, in the case of the four men he shot, how do you square that? And then there’s those who survived unscathed. How do they explain their survival? Several of these women have since killed themselves due to the consequences of that day.
These are the women who lose their lives that day:
- Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student, age 21. She would be 51 today.
- Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23. She would be 53 today.
- Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23. She would be 53 today.
- Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22. She would be 52 today.
- Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student, age 21. She would be 51 today.
- Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student, age 29. She would be 59 today.
- Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department, age 25. She would be 55 today.
- Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student, age 23. She would be 53 today.
- Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22. She would be 52 today.
- Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student, age 28. She would be 58 today.
- Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student, age 21. She would be 51 today.
- Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23. She would be 53 today.
- Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student age 20. She would be 50 today.
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student, age 31. She would be 61 today.