We were sitting at a large drafting table in the naval architecture lab in the Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering building at UBC when someone came in and said it had happened. My own initial emotion was of incredulous shock.
It took some time for the horrible reality of what had happened to trickle in: A heavily-armed young man had separated out women and then massacred them in the engineering school in Montreal. Because they were women and he was murderously
angry at women.
On December 6, 1989, when we first heard reports that a terrorist had attacked Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, I was a 2nd-year mechanical engineering student at UBC.
I will never forget where I was when I learned about it, because it is permanently seared into the memory of all Canadian women I know who were adults at the time.
Many of the victims were our age that day. We were enrolled in the same program as them: mechanical engineering. These women, whose lives were savagely snuffed out by that angry man’s rage, had beaten incredible odds just to be enrolled in mechanical engineering. They were students in a space that was already struggling with its toxicity to women.
Engineering as still too misogynistic and supremacist an industry for a proportional number of members of many marginalized communities to thrive in. STEM continues to have a difficult time retaining women.
That day, that man murdered 14 women because he resented so intensely that women had succeeded where he failed: that he was struggling at life in general. The idea that women were his equal or better than him in that endeavor was apparently too much for him.
He is responsible for his own actions, and society is also responsible for nurturing his decision to choose them.
Somehow he was taught before our very eyes that murdering women was an appropriate choice for the situation when he took his revenge by killing those 14 women, my peers and in so many ways my role models.
That killer was taught by a family, by a community, and by a society that the feelings he experienced, the rage he felt, and the action he took were somehow excusable. Of course, this particular choice was not the desired or the foreseen outcome. Nonetheless, since early childhood, he was shaped towards that day. And of that lesson that our society taught that man who did such a vile, horrible thing, we can not wash our hands as a community.
It was us, Canadians, who created and enabled his monstrous action by tolerating chauvinistic supremacy, or any other kind of supremacy. It was us as a society who taught him that he was entitled to certain things. Canada taught that boy to become the man he became and that if he did not get his things, expressing his rage in a spasm of violence unseen to this day in Canada was an option.
Please read the names of the 14 women murdered by a male supremacist in the Montreal Massacre at Ecole Polytechnique De Montreal and reflect about our society today and about our role in future spasms of violence.
I would like us to all ask ourselves how supremacist ideas like misogyny, religious intolerance, racial bias, homophobia, or transphobia, when allowed to blow across our society can, if unchecked, transform into a murderous storm that takes the lives of people like was done on December 6, 1989.
We must learn from the terrible lessons of our past. Please join me today and every year in reflecting on what our communities our society, our friends and colleagues, and you we personally can do to help us all make a better place tomorrow than we have had so far.
Let’s ensure Canada is not a place where someone can be radicalized by the influence of hateful whispers of casual intolerance and entitlement only to one day explode into a murderous rage that “nobody saw coming” as they lash out so horribly.
This was not such an isolated incident. Think about the Quebec Mosque massacre. Think about the highway of tears. Think about the trans and queer folks driven to suicide by the monstrous consequences of oppression and bigotries. Think about the entitlement reflected in sexual assault and rape.
Please reflect on why those 14 women were murdered on December 6. Reflect on what their killer must have been taught, to come to feel the entitlement to do what he did on December 6, 1989.
Please read their names and harness your sadness and fury caused by horrible act targeted at women. I urge you to reflect on what you think our society should be doing differently in order to take away the supremacist poison, in Montreal’s case misogyny, which turned a boy into a mass-murdering killer of 14 women.
Please read their names aloud.
Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student.
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student.
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student.
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student.
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student.
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student.
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department.
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student.
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student.
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student.
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student.
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student.
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student.
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student.