On December 6, 1989, 25 year old Mark Lépine walked into the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec and launched a massacre on females. In less than 20 minutes he shot 28 people, killing 14 women, before taking his own life. Lépine had made oral statements of “fighting feminism” and said he blamed feminists for ruining his life. He disliked career women and women in traditionally male occupations. Not only did he have a list of women that he intended to shoot, at one point he systematically separated male and female students. This was clearly an act of gender-based violence and there are a variety of theories why Lépine did what he did but the bottom line is, these 14 people died because they were women.
The injured survivors and witnesses among university staff and students suffered a variety of physical, social, existential, financial, and psychological consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Nine years after the event, survivors reported still being affected by their experiences, though with time some of the effects had lessened. For a number of students, the post-traumatic stress was too much and they have taken their own lives.
In the wake of the massacre, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women was created. This day is intended not only as a day to remember the victims of the December 6th massacre but also as a call to action against discrimination and violence against women around the world. Forms of violence and abuse include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, financial abuse, criminal harassment/stalking, neglect, violence committed to protect the family honour, or forced marriage. We need to work individually and as a whole to eliminate all forms of violence, gender-based or not.
This tragic day initiated change. Emergency response protocol in Canada was improved and there was also a Canadian gun control movement which resulted in more stringent gun control laws. But each and every citizen is also responsible for making change. Individual actions will help develop a society that is respectful towards women. Help victims to speak out and support survivors to heal. Society teaches us to keep a stiff upper lip, man up, and get over it. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for deeper wounds that will take longer to heal. Whether male or female, young or old, there should be no shame in reaching out for support and expressing grief and pain.
When researching this event it saddened me to read that males were made to feel that they hadn’t done enough to protect the females during the École Polytechnique massacre. It was suggested that they should have intervened or at least distracted the shooter and that by not doing so, they abandoned the women. These are ordinary citizens facing absolute terror that deserved nothing but compassion and support. We need not to judge but to commit to helping one another and providing a safe, compassionate container for healing.
Individuals must come together as a society to make change. If you or someone you know is in need of support, please reach out. There are free help lines available 24/7 (such as The National Domestic Hotline: 1-800-799-7233) and professional counsellors a phone call away. We are here to help.
Wishing you a gentle journey,