31 years ago today, a man walked into the École Polytechnique in Montréal and murdered 14 women.
I was 18 at the time, and had just started university that September. I remember hearing about the massacre, and feeling stunned, and seeing that horrified disbelief reflected in the faces of my fellow students. Time hasn’t diminished the gut punch of the news reported that day. It was among my first real experiences of gender-based violence since I’d begun to grasp it was a thing, and it was certainly the first on that kind of scale.
It hit close to home, both mentally and physically. These women were my contemporaries. Most of them were no more than a year or two older than I, and they’d been killed in their classrooms, the same types of lecture halls that I sat in every day. Montréal was only a couple of hours away. It was scary, how easily it happened, and how easily it could have happened here.
Within a few days, there was a vigil on Parliament Hill. I didn’t attend, although looking back, I wish I had. I was very unengaged at the time, which is something I’ve worked on in recent years, but it was more than that. I remember the signs around campus saying the vigil was to express anger, and I didn’t think that was appropriate.
Perhaps, if I’d been more aware, I’d have better understood.
The whole situation was badly handled, from the flawed emergency response, to the poor reporting, to the lack of a public inquiry, to the desperation of many to deflect the idea that the attack was gender based. And underneath it all were the societal attitudes and structures that made such an attack thinkable, and easy to accomplish, in the first place. It’s no wonder many were angry.
In the years since, there have been strides forward. Because of the massacre, new emergency response protocols were written. It boosted the gun control movement. It started a conversation about gender based violence. It was the genesis of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
And now we’ve finally … finally … started remembering the women who were killed.
- Geneviève Bergeron
- Hélène Colgan
- Nathalie Croteau
- Barbara Daigneault
- Anne-Marie Edward
- Maud Haviernick
- Maryse Laganière
- Maryse Leclair
- Anne-Marie Lemay
- Sonia Pelletier
- Michèle Richard
- Annie St-Arneault
- Annie Turcotte
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz
Tonight, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) held a memorial. Starting at the same time as the attack began all those years ago, the names of the murdered women were projected onto one of the buildings on the NSCAD campus. It’s only in the last few years that we’ve begun to honor the victims, and accept that the attack was gender based, and even that acceptance is begrudging.
31 years ago, 14 women were murdered.
31 years later, we’ve taken steps to make things better.
But we still have so very far to go.