Remembering the lessons of Polytechnique
Twenty one years ago today, I was studying at McGill University. On that day I vividly recall twenty or so of us watching Radio Canada’s live coverage in horror as the carnage was taking place just a few kilometers away on the other side of Mount Royal.
Marc Lepine, entered the doors of the l'École Polytechnique, the engineering department at the University of Montreal. He did not come out alive. Neither did 14 of his unsuspecting and innocent victims. They were all women. That’s why Lepine killed them. He systematically and methodically sought out women as his targets. They were assassinated in cold blood at Lepine’s hands. He used a small caliber hunting rifle.
That day, and for months later, people of our community tried to make sense of what had taken place. As much as we tried, we couldn’t. And we still can’t.
The long gun registry was one response to this tragedy. Police and civilian authorities in West Vancouver and places across the country have said that it’s an indispensible tool that saves lives. This year, the House of Commons – after a highly divisive and partisan debate – affirmed parliaments support for this registry and defeated a Conservative Bill supported by Stephen Harper and John Weston to abolish it.
The women who lost their lives in this inexplicable act of evil were high achievers studying engineering – historically the preserve of men - at an elite school. Lepine’s unspeakable act of targeted violence shined some needed light on the broader societal scourge of violence and also discrimination against women.
I’d like to think that we’ve come a long way since that tragic day of the Montreal massacre twenty one years ago. Our society was repulsed. Rather than respond in fear, we redoubled our effort and commitment to understanding the root causes and learn important lessons arising from this tragedy.
Today, women make up a high number of enrolments of science and engineering departments of universities across Canada. We are more attuned to the sometimes subtle undercurrents of violence and discrimination. We do not tolerate even hints of it – or at least we shouldn’t. Parents are on high alert. Our daughters are taught that they need not be subservient to any man and that there is no discipline they cannot attempt and no path that is off limits. That they should have confidence that they have choice and they have equality of opportunity under the law.
Our twelve year old daughter feels that in her bones. In no small measure that is because of the tragedy of fourteen women who were murdered at l'École Polytechnique 21 years ago.
We must never forget these women and we must never forget why they were killed. That includes remaining vigilant against the shrill voices of ideologues and cynical political opportunists who refuse to heed facts, hard evidence, the testimony of experts, and of reason.
We cannot afford to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made. The spectacle of the recent gun registry “debate” shows that much more work remains to be done.