Province marks anniversary of Montreal Massacre
It was a day that was traumatic for Canada and yet it is a day the nation has sworn never to forget — Dec. 6, 1989, the Montreal Massacre.
That day an enraged gunman named Marc Lepine roamed the halls of Montreal’s École Polytechnique shouting “I hate feminists,” and shooting dead 14 women.
The incident infuriated Canadians and in 1991 the anniversary of the shootings was proclaimed to be a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
Now, 22 years later, more than 100 people gathered Tuesday at Memorial University’s department of engineering to mark the solemn anniversary.
Ailsa Craig, with MUN’s department of sociology, MCed the event and gave the opening remarks.
“Dec. 6 is a day on our calendars. It’s a day when we mark the loss of 14 young women killed because of their gender — but that was not an isolated event,” Craig told the packed lecture theatre.
“Gender violence is part of the fabric of how we live. It’s in our homes, our schools, our places of work, in the laws that we make and in the laws that are repealed. We need to remember not just that day, but that Dec. 6 was a day just like any other day. In some ways Dec. 6 was ordinary,” she added.
Society, she concluded, must continue to work toward a day when gender-based violence is anything but ordinary.
The guest speaker for the vigil was a woman who knows the Montreal Massacre better than most, NDP MHA Gerry Rogers.
Rogers was living in Montreal at the time of the shootings and working as a film director. She watched those events unfold and recalled that even as they were ongoing she was getting calls from the media in Newfoundland asking for a first-hand account.
But while most people had no problem expressing their emotions and reactions to the shootings, Rogers said something stopped her from joining them.
“I decided not to speak to the media then because it felt like there was such a storm going on around. So I decided I wanted to retreat and stand back and try and understand what was going on, to get a perspective,” she said.
But as the first anniversary of the massacre approached, Rogers was asked to direct a film about a number of spousal murders that had been taking place in Toronto. She turned around and requested the subject be changed to the massacre.
The film Rogers produced was “After the Montreal Massacre” and while it touched on a number of overarching issues, it also told the story of shooting survivor Sylvie Gagnon.
Rogers recalled that at one point during their interview Gagnon said to her, “I don’t know who Marc Lepine is, but he’s a symptom of all the little violences that we experience in our lives.”
Rogers also declared that it was “an honour and a privilege” to tell Gagnon’s story and that she hoped it would never be forgotten.
Forgetting seemed to be an underlying concern for many of the speakers. Some expressed concern that as the massacre gets farther into the past, young people will forget what a significant event it was.
But Sonja Boon doesn’t agree with that assessment.
Boon is an assistant professor in the department of women’s studies at MUN and her classes review the massacre as part of their program.
“It’s something I bring up every year … because most of (my students) weren’t even alive, “ she said.
“So I think it’s important to reflect on the fact that this happened to kids just like them. It happened to young people who were just going about their daily lives, going to class, getting their studies, getting their education. … I always do it right at the end of the term and get them to think about what it means to be in that situation,” she added.
As for young people forgetting about the significance of the event, Boon surmises that as long as events like the vigil are held, and the discussion about gender violence continues, the importance of marking the massacre anniversary will never be lost.
“As long as we talk and keep it open, then I don’t think they will forget,” she said.