On a black background, the names of the 14 women killed December 6 1989: 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

It’s the 30th Anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre. Has Anything Changed?

Today, we say their names.

  • Geneviève Bergeron (1968–1989), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (1968–1989), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (1960–1989), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (1964–1989), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (1966–1989), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (1961–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (1968–1989), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (1969–1989), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (1958–1989), nursing student

The following is adapted from a delegation delivered to Cambridge City Council by YWCA Cambridge Executive Director Kim Decker on December 3. Below, she speaks of the December 6 1989 tragedy, and looks at where we are now as it relates to gender-based violence and how far we still have to go.

December 6, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of what has become commonly known as the Montreal Massacre. On December 6, 1989, a man entered a mechanical engineering classroom at Montreal‘s École Polytechnique armed with a semi-automatic weapon. After separating the women from the men, he opened fire on the women while screaming, “You are all feminists.” Fourteen young women were murdered, and thirteen other people wounded. The shooter then turned the gun on himself. In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.

In the 30 years since this horrific act of violence against women, one might assume that there would have been sweeping changes in policy, attitude and funding related to gender-based violence. Statistics tell a different story:

  • The UN states that violence against women and girls is among the most widespread and devastating human rights violation in the world.
  • Globally 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence.  1 in 3.  If we look to particular communities – LGBTQ2S+, migrant, racialized, Indigenous, folks with disabilities the rates are even higher.
  • All Canadians pay a steep price for violence against women. It is estimated that each year, Canadians collectively spend 7.4 billion to deal with the spousal violence.  More recent research puts that number at 12 billion. A Justice Canada study examined the cost of violent crime and found that the largest single cost – 4.8 billion in one year – was attributed to sexual assault and other sexual offences.
  • Every 6 days, a woman in Canada is killed by a former or current partner.  In 2018 a woman or girl was killed every 2.5 days in Canada.
  • There were 1,181 cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada between 1980 and 2012 according to the RCMP.  The Minister for the Status of Women believes that the number is closer to 4000.  However, in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, it concludes that no one knows an exact number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.  Thousands of women’s deaths or disappearances have likely gone unrecorded over decades and many families likely did not feel ready or safe to share with the National Inquiry. 
  • Aboriginal women are killed at 6 times the rate of non-aboriginal women.
  • Young women (age 18-24) are most likely to experience online harassment in its most severe forms including stalking, sexual harassment and physical threats.
  • According to the recently-released Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey, 70% of participants reported sexual harassment and two thirds reported discrimination because of their gender identity.
  • More than 36% of the younger participants (ages 14-18) had been physically threatened or injured in the past year.

In October 2017, the hashtag #MeToo made headlines internationally, promoting women from around the world to publicly share their experiences of sexual assault or harassment.  The #MeToo Movement has been called a watershed moment in the advancement of gender equality, giving a powerful platform to women and demonstrating the extent of sexual assault and harassment across society.  In Canada, the Movement has had implications not only for survivors, but also for support service providers, educators, law enforcement, employers and the government.  In our own Region, the calls for support to the Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo Region have doubled.  This Movement has revealed how much change is needed.

In the 2019 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Report: “The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada”, the Waterloo Region was ranked dead last in all of Canada for women’s safety.

Increased awareness about gender-based violence is due in large part to the courageous work of survivors and family members of victims. But as important, even in the face of funding reductions, are the services of Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, the SHORE Centre and the YWCAs in Cambridge and Kitchener Waterloo. These organizations are providing essential services like crisis housing, counselling, court support, outreach and prevention services for girls and young women. In addition, we know that if we are ever going to end gender-based violence, men and boys need to be part of that conversation.  We are very fortunate that the Male Allies program (out of SASC) and joint work between Male Allies and YWCA Cambridge are addressing healthy masculinity in community spaces and in schools.

We know that prevention work must be community-specific, adequately funded and based on a gendered feminist intersectional analysis of violence. The focus has to be on educating children, youth and adults on human rights and violence against women and girls through promoting and understanding of healthy relationships, consent and rape culture, breaking down sexual assault myths, encouraging bystander interventions, offering programs to foster self-esteem and working with men and boys to change attitudes and behaviours. 

When perpetrators of sexual violence on university campuses go unpunished, when celebrities who’ve committed abuse against women and girls continue to be glorified, or when victims are blamed for the violence they have endured, it is a sign of a systemic issue in society. 

Today, we remember the victims of the December 6 massacre in Montreal but I ask you to take action. We all have a responsibility to end gender-based violence, in our homes, our workplaces, in schools and in the community. Literally, the lives of women and girls depend on it.

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