As December in Canada rolls around, most people’s thoughts turn to the upcoming holiday season; Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and the like. With Christmas carols ringing from every corner, advertisers targeting holiday shoppers, and the streets adorned in red, green, and gold, it is easy to understand how this season can overwhelm the senses and entice us to block out the unpleasantness that exists in the world around us. However, December also heralds another significant, albeit horrifyingly heartbreaking, anniversary for Canadians.
On December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine entered the engineering college École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada with the intention of killing as many women as he could before taking his own life. Armed with a rifle, Lepine walked to a classroom, ordered the men to leave the room, and opened fire on the women. He then left the classroom and continued his rampage through the school ending in the cafeteria where he then committed suicide by shotgun.
The entire rampage lasted less than 30 minutes. In the aftermath, 14 women were killed, more than a dozen other victims (of both genders but mainly female) were injured, and Lepine himself was dead. One police officer who was on the scene found his own daughter shot and stabbed to death by Lepine.
The natural response to such a seemingly senseless event like this is outrage, survivor’s guilt, horror, sadness, and the inevitable search for answers. How could anyone do this? What drove Lepine in particular do this? How do we move on from something so horrifying in our history? There have been a number of articles, plays, and at least one movie (“Polytechnique”) that have all strived to answer these questions. Some have recreated the events of that dark day from different view points while others have focused on the effects that these events had on the survivors and those of us who have grown up learning about this massacre.
Many Polytechnique survivors (both male and female) purportedly suffered from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are also reports of both men and women who committed suicide up to several years after Lepine terrorized École Polytechnique and who left behind letters stating that their torment in the aftermath of the massacre contributed to their decision to end their own lives. These deaths include men who were haunted by the guilt of not standing up to Lepine and “letting” him kill their female counterparts.
In addition to a number of plaques and memorials around Canada honouring the 14 women who lost their lives that day, Canada also observes December 6th as The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to both commemorate the lives that were ended this day simply because they were women and to reflect on the gender-based violence that women face every day.
They Were Killed Because They Were Girls...
One thing even more horrifying than women being killed because of their gender is when it happens to children. In 2006, a non-Amish man walked into an Amish schoolhouse, separated the girls from the boys, opened fire on the girls, then turned the gun on himself. Though the time, place, people, and details were different, the general story reads all too much like the Polytechnique massacre that happened 17 years and one country away.
Was there a cultural or religious aspect to the Amish schoolhouse killings? Perhaps. But the fact remains that he divided up the girls and let the boys go. In the aftermath of the Polytechnique massacre, witnesses reported that Marc Lepine only shot at men who were with women but showed no interest in any other men he came upon during his rampage. He had also left behind a letter stating that his actions that day were targeted against “feminists” who he blamed for his unsuccessful life.
Ultimately the twisted rational that deviant minds use to rationalize these actions are not important beyond trying to find closure and a reason that may help us to understand what happened and perhaps prevent it from happening again. Though we in Canada have several days each year that are marked to commemorate, remember, and reflect on these events, the reality is that violence against women happens every day on a less conspicuous but much more ubiquitous basis. Lest we not forget…
By Sandra Dyal