22 years ago, I was a 19-year-old University student in Halifax. As I went into the residence cafeteria for supper, the room was buzzing. People had been shot at École Polytechnique in Montreal. Students. Details were sketchy, but some were dead. Some were injured. So far, all women. We sat, shocked and horrified and scared. How could this happen in Canada?
This was before the days of the internet, before information flew out in the blink of an eye. So it was hours, days even, before we learned that 14 students were dead. All were women.
The gunman was a troubled man from a difficult background named Marc Lepine. Lepine’s own father had been contemptuous and abusive towards women, and Lepine apparently carried much of that into his own adulthood.
On that day in 1989, Lepine walked into the Ecole Polytechnique and into an engineering classroom with a .22 calibre rifle. He separated the women from the men, then told the approximately 50 men to leave the room.
Lepine opened fire systematically. Six of the nine women in the room were killed, the rest injured. He then went on a rampage through the building, opening fire wherever he saw the opportunity before turning the gun on himself. In the end, 14 women were dead, ten women and four men were injured, and Canada would never be the same.
It was many months before we learned of the letter Lepine carried, blaming feminists for ruining his life. He also reportedly listed nineteen feminists he wanted to kill.
The Government of Canada created a long gun registry in 1995 directly in response to the Montreal Massacre. Lepine’s unregistered yet easy to get, legal weapon killed 14 women. The Conservative Government of Stephen Harper is scrapping that registry, saying that it is useless and “criminalizing farmers” who use the weapons for presumably non-murderous purposes. Perhaps they believe that 22 years is long enough for people to forget the Montreal Massacre and the women who died at Lepine’s hand. But the people of Montreal aren’t buying it: and members of the Conservative government are not welcome at today’s memorial services.
Today, the 14 women who were killed would be just like me. 40-something. Established in their careers, or not. Maybe partnered, maybe mothers, maybe happy, maybe less. Maybe some would have travelled the world, or maybe they’d never have left Montreal. Maybe they would have died of some other reason or maybe they’d be living til they were 90. We will never know, because a man chose to blame them for the ruin of his own life and to make them pay by ending theirs.
And for the sakes of those 14 women, and for all the other women who die because men think they don’t deserve their own lives, we must continue to fight for women’s rights everywhere.
Photo Credit: Bobanny on Wikimedia Commons