December 6, 2022
Hon. Judith G. Seidman: Honourable senators, it was a cold Wednesday afternoon when a young man walked into l’École Polytechnique de Montréal 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. 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 that his intention was to end the lives of all women in the Department of Engineering.
Today is the 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 33 years ago. Their only sin was that they had dared to dream they could be engineers. Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire was the first woman to graduate from the civil engineering program at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. When 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.
Women continue to be under-represented in engineering, but in 2020, Polytechnique’s Department of Engineering reached an important milestone. That year, just over 30% of undergraduate engineering graduates were women.
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 this is 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 to commemorate women such as those 14 students in Montreal who died on that Wednesday afternoon 33 years ago. 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 and Annie Turcotte.