December 12, 2016
It was a cold, Wednesday afternoon when a young man walked into École Polytechnique de Montreal armed with a 223‑calibre rifle. The date was December 6, 1989.
He entered a classroom of engineering students and instantly ordered all six women to the back and the men to leave. Lining the women up side by side, he yelled, “You’re all a bunch of feminists, I hate feminists.”
He lifted his rifle, pointed it toward the first woman’s head and shot her in the forehead. He would go on to do the same for the other five standing alongside.
The shots echoed through the hallways. Students nearby heard the horrifying screams and scrambled for help.
On that dark day, 14 women lost their lives. And the gunman’s suicide note stated that women had no place in engineering because they would take jobs from men, that feminists were ruining his life, and his intention was to end the lives of all women in the Department of Engineering.
Today marks National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, and I wish to pay tribute to these 14 brave women who lost their lives 27 years ago. Their only sin was that they had dared to dream they could be engineers.
Michele Thibodeau‑DeGuire was the first woman to graduate from the civil engineering program at École Polytechnique de Montreal. Asked about a possible solution to gender‑based violence, she said, “One way to move forward after an event like this is to continue encouraging girls and women to stay in fields like engineering.”
Currently, there are about 2,000 women enrolled in the Polytechnique’s Department of Engineering. That is about 25 per cent of the total number of engineering students.
Honourable senators, remarkably, violence against women remains all too common today. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women experience some form of violence in their lifetime, and most of these by their partners. It doesn’t take much thinking to remember the assaults and abuses against young women recently all over the world. No doubt you yourselves are remembering, perhaps even someone you know.
December 6 is an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the phenomenon of violence against women in our society and commemorate women, such as those 14 students in Montreal who died on that Wednesday afternoon 27 years ago.
And they are: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne‑Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik‑Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne‑Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St‑Arneault, Annie Turcotte.