6 December 1989

December 6, 2020 § Leave a comment

It was a cold and wet day in the suburbs of Vancouver. Then again, most every day in the Pacific Northwest from November to March was cold and wet. How we did not develop webbed feet and moss is something I never understood. I was 16 years old, disaffected and bored beyond words in suburbia. It was an unremarkable day.

That evening, I was in the living room with my parental units watching the news. We weren’t really people for tradition, but the news was sacrosanct. The Old Man sat in his Command Centre, a reclining chair with his remote. My mom sat in the corner of the couch closest to him. They watched the early news at 5pm on BCTV, the Vancouver affiliate of CTV. Then they watched the national news at 5.30. And then at 6pm, the News Hour with Tony Parsons came on. Tony Parsons was the official voice of the news in our house. He was taciturn, with a deep voice, and these brown eyes that were soulful. His was a trustworthy face, his was a trustworthy voice. The rest of British Columbia agreed, as the News Hour was, by far, the most watched news programme in the province.

I didn’t spend a lot of time with the Rental Units, but for some reason, I was with them that night. I watched the early news with them and the News Hour. I don’t recall why, it’s possible that my mom called me in when the 5pm news began. There was news from Montréal, from whence my mom, me, and my sister came from. There’d been a shooting. Hours earlier, a lone gunman had walked into the Êcole Polytechnique de Montréal, part of the Université de Montréal. The school is on UdeM’s campus, which is nested under the northern side of Mont-Royal, between Outremont and Cote-des-Neiges, two Montréal neighbourhoods. Cote-des-Neiges is the neighbourhood just north of where both sets of my grandparents had lived when I was a kid in Snowdon.

We watched the news, shocked, dismayed, saddened. This gunman had opened fire at l’École Polytechnique because he ‘hated feminists,’ whom he believed had ruined his life. I knew what misogyny looked like, I knew what violence looked like. This wasn’t sexism, this was misogyny.

The third floor classroom of l’École Polytechnique where the attack ended.

My mom raised me as a feminist, as she was. Her friends were feminists. My mom had worked in the 1980s helping divorced women get back on their feet, to find jobs and a means to support themselves after being essentially dumped by their husbands, quite often with the children. This was the 1980s, and the women my mom worked with were of a generation where they had quit work when they got married, or at the latest, when they got pregnant. By the time they were dumped, they’d been at home with the kids from anywhere from 5 to 15 years, they had no recent experience, they had no clue.

I spent a fair amount of time in my mom’s office, her colleagues, Christine, Audrey, and Gail, were all really nice to me, and even as an eight year old, I could see what was going on, even if I couldn’t name it. I saw they did good in the world, I was proud of my mom and I was proud of her colleagues.

By the time I was 16, I was a feminist, I believed in equality. I believed in the equality of men and women, but also of people of all ethnicities and races. I thought that Canada as a whole saw things in the same way I did, though I knew better.

We were collectively, as a nation, shocked by what happened in Montréal that day. We didn’t have mass shootings. Even today, 31 years on, the number of mass shootings in Canada can be counted on one hand. We don’t have paralyzing discussions about the rights of individuals versus collective rights. Guns are not part of our national myths and culture.

The Anne-Marie Edward Science Building at John Abbott College, where I taught from 2006-2012

And whilst misogyny wasn’t hard to find, and men did beat their girlfriends, wives, daughters, mothers, and they sometimes they killed them. One of my dad’s soccer teammates, a few years later, spent a stretch in prison for attempting to murder his girlfriend. Everyone was shocked. I was not. But that didn’t mean that these crimes manifested into massacres. Except on 6 December 1989, they did.

The gunman that day made misogyny a national crisis, he took all that violence and hatred, and fear, of women, and he manifested it onto the national stage.

The great Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, sometime in the early 80s, in an interview, said something along the lines of:

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine.
“‘They are afraid women will laugh at them’, he said, ‘undercut their world view.’
“Then I asked some women students, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ “‘They are afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

Thirty-one years on, we have made all the right noises, every 6 December, we repeat the same lines, from the Prime Minister one down. But just as I argued recently that Canada is an inherently racist society, it is also true that we are an inherently misogynistic society.

Place du 6 Décembre 1989, Montréal

The gunman that day pointed this out to us. He killed fourteen women for the sin of seeking an education. He wounded ten more women and four men. The dead:

  • Geneviève Bergeron, 21, civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22, mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21, chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick, 29, materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière, 25, budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair, 23, materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier, 28, mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard, 21, materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault, 23, mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte, 20, materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, nursing student.

May they rest in power.

The Montréal Massacre

December 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

Twenty-nine years ago today, a violent misogynist marched into the École Polytechnique in Montréal, separated the men from the women and gunned down fourteen women.  Another fourteen were wounded.  He then killed himself.  In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.  He claimed that feminists attempted to play the advantages of being women whilst also seeking to claim advantages that belong to men.  He had a list of nineteen prominent women in Québec whom he considered to be feminists and whom he wished dead.

The Montréal Massacre shocked a nation.  I was sixteen and living at the other end of the country, in the suburbs of Vancouver.  This felt a little more real for me because I am from Montréal.  My mother, also a montréalaise, was ashen-faced and shocked watching the news, crying.  At school the next day at school, a Thursday, the shock was real and palpable.  Nearly all of us felt it.  Nearly all of us were sickened.  Some were crying in the hallways.  Some looked like zombies.  We talked about this incessantly.  We didn’t understand.  We didn’t understand such violent misogyny.

I remain shocked by this event even today.  What I didn’t know or understand about violent misogyny as a teenager I now do.  I am a professor myself and teach my students about misogyny.  And violent misogyny.  I often talk about the Montréal Massacre, even to American students.  In 1989 I was shocked by the irrational hatred of men towards women.  In 2018, I am still shocked, but more jaded, I know it’s there and and am not all that surprised when it plays out.

In 2017, my wife and I went to the Women’s March in Nashville, TN.  A lot of the older women protesting, the women of my mother’s generation, were carrying signs saying ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Still Protesting This Shit.’  They were right.  This is the same shit.

Every 6 December in Canada, we wring our hands and ask how and why did this happen?  But we haven’t done much to make it so that this cannot happen again.  In the United Staes, we have done even less to make women safe.  This is just immoral and wrong.

The worst part is that nearly all of us know the killer’s name.  I refuse to utter it, I refuse to use it.  To do so gives him infamy, it gives him something he does not deserve.  Instead, I am always saddened that we cannot recite the names of the dead.  Here is a list of the women he killed that day in 1989:

  • Genviève Bergeron, 21
  • Hélène Colgan, 23
  • Nathalie Croteau, 23
  • Barbara Daigneault, 22
  • Anne-Marie Edward, 21
  • Maud Haviernick, 29
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewic, 31
  • Maryse Laganière, 25
  • Maryse Leclair, 23
  • Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
  • Sonia Pelletier, 28
  • Michèle Richard, 21
  • Annie Saint-Arneault, 23
  • Annie Turcotte, 21

It saddens me to think that these fourteen women died because one immature little man decided they’d ruined his life by trying to gain an education.  The futures they didn’t get to have because of one violent misogynist with a gun depresses me.  And every 6 December, I stop and think about this.  I pay tribute to these women.  And I think about how I can make a difference in my own world to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Remembering the Montreal Massacre

December 6, 2016 § 2 Comments

Today is the 27th anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre.  On this morning, 6 December, in 1989, an armed gunman walked into the École Polytechnique, separated the men from the women, and shot 28 people, executing 14 female students.  Why? Because they were women and he felt that feminists had ruined his life.  As per usual, I refuse to name him.  He should be forgotten, he does not deserve infamy (he killed himself at the scene).  His suicide letter contained the names of 19 other Quebec feminists he wished to kill.

For Canadians of my generation, the Massacre was and remains deeply shocking.  It resonates. I remember where I was when I heard the news, I remember the shock I felt, and then the anger.  I grew up in a violent household, my mother the target of my step-father during drunken outbursts.  His violence appalled me.  All violence against women appalls me.  Deeply.

And here we are, 27 years on, and violence against women is still prevalent.  For this reason, name and remember the victims of the Massacre in Montreal 27 years ago, to honour them. May they continue to rest in peace:

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student, age 21.
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student, age 21.
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student, age 29.
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department, age 25.
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student, age 23.
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student, age 22.
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student, age 28.
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student, age 21.
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student, age 23.
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student age 20.
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student, age 31.

Thoughts on the Montréal Massacre

December 6, 2014 § 12 Comments

Twenty-five years ago today, on 6 December 1989, a deranged young man wandered into the École Polytechnique in Montréal and opened fire.  He was angry at women, he was angry at feminists whom he blamed for ruining his life. So he targeted women studying at an engineering school.  He killed fourteen of them:

  • Geneviève Bergeron
  • Hélène Colgan
  • Nathalie Croteau
  • Barbara Daigneault
  • Anne-Marie Edward
  • Maud Haviernick
  • Maryse Laganière
  • Maryse Leclair
  • Anne-Marie Lemay
  • Sonia Pelletier
  • Michèle Richard
  • Annie St-Arneault
  • Annie Turcotte
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

Today, I’ve seen patently stupid media articles in Canada praising us for being so much better today than we were then.  Bullshit.  We’re not.  I’m not even going to list all the misogyny and other bullshit I see around me on a daily basis.  I’ve noted much of it on this blog.

I’m sick of. I’m sick of misogyny. I’m sick of men’s violence towards women.  It’s time to man up, it’s time to end this.

 

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