Consensus comes 30 years later that Montreal massacre was an anti-feminist act

Consensus comes 30 years later that Montreal massacre was an anti-feminist act

MONTREAL — Thirty years after the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, official acknowledgment has come that what happened on Dec. 6, 1989 at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique was an attack on feminists.

On the eve of Friday’s anniversary, Montreal changed a plaque in a memorial park that previously referred to a “tragic event” — with no mention that the victims were all women. The revised text unveiled on Thursday describes an “anti-feminist attack” that claimed the lives of 14 women.

“I think it’s a very good thing, but in a way, I understand why it took so long,” said Catherine Bergeron, who lost her sister, Genevieve, on that day in 1989. ”The event was such a shock and so dramatic that it was hard to admit the real origins of it until today.”

Thirty years on, questions continue to swirl about gun control, and violence and discrimination against women persist. Just last year, the man accused of using a rented van to kill 10 people and injure 16 others last year in Toronto told police the attack was a day of retribution because women sexually rejected and ridiculed him.

Nathalie Provost, who was shot four times in the Polytechnique attack, said using the right words to describe the Polytechnique shootings is crucial.

“I think it’s very important to bear witness to reality. It was an anti-feminist act. It was obvious from the moment it happened,” Provost said. “I think that for those who will go there and take the time to read it, they’ll better understand what happened exactly on that horrible day. And that’s important for the memory of my friends.”

Claire-Anse Saint-Eloi, who is overseeing a Quebec Women’s Federation campaign to end violence against women, said identifying the attack as one against feminists opens the way to addressing ongoing problems.

Three decades later, she said, victims of sexual violence, victims of discriminatory laws and victims of racism still struggle to be believed. ”But when we name the violence, we can say what do we next?” she said.

Bergeron, who is head of the committee organizing this year’s commemorative events, said there will be a focus on the lives behind the names.

Those names are well-known and each year they are read out: Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michele Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.

“We know their names,” Bergeron said. “For the past 30 years, we’ve said them, reminding people that they were women, but who were they? What were their hopes? Where did they want to be?”

A new book written by former Le Devoir editor Josee Boileau looks closely at the events and the victims themselves. Commissioned by the organizing committee, the idea was to give the next generation a reference but also remind that the women were more than victims.

“They were all very talented in a lot of fields. They were very energetic and nice and kind,” Bergeron said. “They were women that were curious to try different things — they were rays of sunshine in their respective families — that’s what comes out.”

Provost was a 23-year-old engineering student when Mark Lepine singled out women during his 20-minute shooting rampage. Fourteen women were killed — mostly students — while 13 people were wounded — nine women and four men.

In a classroom, Provost came face-to-face with Lepine, armed with a .223-calibre Sturm-Ruger rifle. The shooter made clear he was targeting his victims because he saw them as feminists — people he blamed for his own failings. Provost survived being shot in the forehead, both legs and a foot.

On the 30th anniversary, Provost said she looks at the harrowing events in a different light now that her own children are around the same age she was at the time.

“I more fully realize how young I was — I was a kid and we were kids — and it moves me a lot to see my kids and see they are where I was in my life — at the beginning,” she said. “I’m also much more sensitive to how terrible the loss of a child might have been for the families who had to survive after their kids (were killed) — I cannot imagine my grief and I don’t want to imagine it.”

Serge St-Arneault, whose sister Annie was killed that day, views the anniversary as a chance to come to terms with the tragedy.

“We finally found the word that was missing — femicide — it was women who were targeted,” he said.

St-Arneault was halfway across the world in 1989 doing missionary work at the Congo-Uganda border, and it took him a month to get back home. He was close to his sister — one of four siblings — and in the years that have passed, he has fought for tougher gun laws and an end to violence against women as a way of honouring Annie’s memory.

“There was before Dec. 6, 1989, and after,” St-Arneault said. “This moment is a pivotal one in Quebec and Canada, that we must mobilize to build a society where women are safe.”

But for survivors and victims’ families, the fact the weapon used in the mass killing has yet to be banned by Canadian authorities is difficult to fathom.

“It’s not easy, especially for the families, to keep fighting after 30 years, to keep facing the fact that the weapon that was used to kill their sisters and daughters is still legal and non-restricted,” said Heidi Rathjen, who was a Polytechnique student the night of the shooting and later became a staunch gun-control advocate.

Rathjen says they want to see “comprehensive, bold gun-control measures,” from the re-elected federal Liberals, including a full ban on assault-style weapons and handguns in short order. She pointed to New Zealand, which brought in a ban on assault weapons and rigorous screening and registration measures after a mass shooting at two mosques claimed 51 lives last March.

“If the new government doesn’t act decisively and boldly in the public interest now, 30 years later, after having been elected twice on the basis of a promise to strengthen gun control, then when?” Rathjen asked.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 5, 2019.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous version had first name as Nathalie

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Marcus Golczyk, with Taco Monster, hands food to a customer during Food Truck Drive and Dash in the Westerner Park parking lot in Red Deer Friday afternoon. The drive-thru event will run every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. through June. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff
Food Truck Fridays, Food Truck Drive and Dash return in Red Deer

Red Deerians are able to take in a drive-thru food truck experience… Continue reading

Don and Gloria Moore, of Red Deer, are set to celebrate their 70th anniversary later this month. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer couple to celebrate 70th anniversary

Red Deer couple Don and Gloria Moore are set to celebrate their… Continue reading

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault chairs a premiers virtual news conference as premiers John Horgan, B.C., Jason Kenney, Alberta, and Scott Moe, Saskatchewan, are seen onscreen, Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Several provinces bring in new restrictions as high COVID-19 case numbers persist

Several provinces are gearing up to tighten public health measures once again… Continue reading

Members of the RCAF take part in a Royal Canadian Air Force change of command ceremony in Ottawa on Friday, May 4, 2018. The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open its doors to military pilots from other countries as it seeks to address a longstanding shortage of experienced aviators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
RCAF turns to foreign pilots to help with shortage as commercial aviators stay away

OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open… Continue reading

An arrivals and departures information screen is seen at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. The chief executive of Atlantic Canada's largest airport is hoping for COVID-19 testing for arriving passengers "sooner rather than later," as an added measure to combat the province's third wave of the virus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Halifax airport CEO hopes for more on-site COVID testing ‘sooner rather than later’

HALIFAX — The chief executive of Atlantic Canada’s largest airport is hoping… Continue reading

Shoppers wear mask as they shop at a nursery & garden shop on Mother's Day weekend during COVID-19 pandemic in Wilmette, Ill., Saturday, May 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Tearful reunions mark second Mother’s Day under pandemic

Last Mother’s Day, they celebrated with bacon and eggs over FaceTime. This… Continue reading

Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet, standing, watches the game during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in St. Paul, Minn. The Wild won 5-2. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
Tocchet won’t return as coach of Coyotes after 4 seasons

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes and coach Rick Tocchet have mutually… Continue reading

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella shouts at an official after a fight between Columbus Blue Jackets' s Gavin Bayreuther and Florida Panthers' Sam Bennett during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, April 19, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Tortorella out after 6 years as Columbus Blue Jackets coach

COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Tortorella is out as coach of the Columbus… Continue reading

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada's vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel's approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

JASPER, Alta. — A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing… Continue reading

The smouldering remains of houses in Slave Lake, Alta., are seen in a May 16, 2011, file photo. The wildfire that is devastating large swaths of the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray comes just five years after another blaze destroyed 400 buildings and left 2,000 people homeless in Slave Lake, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson
Ten years later: Five things to know about the Slave Lake wildfire

A wildfire burned about one-third of Slave Lake in northern Alberta in… Continue reading

Most Read