‘Things haven’t changed enough.’ Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

MONTREAL — Vows to end violence against women combined with solemn reflection as ceremonies were held Friday to honour the 14 victims of the Dec. 6, 1989 anti-feminist attack at Montreal's École polytechnique.

On the 30th anniversary of Canada's worst mass shooting, the House of Commons fell silent as members of Parliament remembered the victims who were targeted for death because they were women.

article continues below

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu fought back tears as she listed the names of the 14 murdered women. Gladu said that as the first female engineer elected to the House of Commons, she feels a special bond to the victims.

"These women were my sisters," she said. "I name them now to respect them for the strong women they are and they were."

In Montreal, several dozen people gathered outside the school under a light morning snowfall as dignitaries and students lay bouquets of white roses in front of a commemorative plaque bearing the victims’ names: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.

Members of the public also paid their respects in front of the campus, and among the first on hand Friday morning was Jean-Pierre Bernard.

Bernard, went to high school in the Gaspe region with one of the victims, Sonia Pelletier. "I came for the 25th anniversary, and every year I wear my (memorial) pin. It's very important for me," Bernard said.

Later, families of the victims and survivors gathered inside for the launch of a book written by Montreal journalist Josée Boileau.

The book, Ce jour-là — Parce qu'elles étaient des femmes (That Day — Because They Were Women) is to be translated into English next year. It takes a broader look at the advancement of women in Quebec society.

The families and friends of the 14 women killed at Polytechnique were involved in the book, lending their voices to talk about the lives — determined and full of energy — cut down too soon.

"When people will read this — particularly young women of today — they will recognize themselves. They'll say, 'There's very little difference between who I am and those women,' " said Serge St-Arneault, whose sister Annie was killed in the attack.

St-Arneault said he's happy that people are no longer mincing words when it comes to what happened at Polytechnique — declaring clearly it was an attack against women.

"I'm very touched by what I've heard today, it gives me some peace," said St-Arneault, but his mind is not completely at ease. "We are still a society where too many women are being killed every year, especially by guns."

In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said gender-based violence remains a threat.

"Each December, as we honour the memories of those 14 women, the survivors and the families, we promise to do better," Trudeau said. "But the reality is that in 30 years, things haven't changed enough."

Trudeau highlighted the Liberal campaign pledge to ban semi-automatic assault rifles, including the weapon used in the Polytechnique killings, as evidence of his government's commitment to action.

"These weapons, designed to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, have no place in our communities, in our streets, in our country," he said.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said women should not still have to fear for their safety simply because of their gender. "It is unacceptable that violence against women remains an issue to this day," he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh warned the "anti-woman hatred" that led to the massacre in Montreal 30 years ago remains a threat.

"Thirty years after Canadians said, 'Never again,' following the Polytechnique tragedy, we need to recognize collectively that we still have a long way to go to respect that commitment," Singh said.

Later Friday, the public will gather on Mount Royal at 5:10 p.m. — the time the 1989 attack began— and 14 beams of light will shine over the Montreal skyline as the names of the 14 women are read aloud. Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette and Quebec Premier Francois Legault are among the dignitaries expected at the event.

To mark the 30th anniversary, 14 engineering schools across the country will also each shine a beam of light in honour of the victims.

On Thursday, the City of Montreal changed the wording on a plaque Thursday at the Place du 6-decembre-1989 to declare the attack was an anti-feminist act.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2019.

© Virden Empire-Advance

Report a Typo or Error

Vaping POLL

Do you vape?

or  view results