The École Polytechnique Massacre (or Montreal Massacre) was the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history, claiming the lives of 14 women and igniting a national debate on gun control and violence against women. On December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine entered a class at the École Polytechnique de Montreal (the engineering faculty of the University of Montreal) armed with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle. He demanded the women separate from the men, and the men leave. Lépine then informed the women that he was “fighting feminism” before killing six of them, subsequently murdering eight others (and injuring 14) elsewhere in the building. In his suicide note, he blamed women for ruining his life and listed prominent Quebec women whom he planned to target.
The École Polytechnique Massacre sent shock waves through the country. Concerned about the sensitivity of the issue and the potential for more violence, the government declined to hold a public inquiry and both the police report and Lepine’s suicide note were not publicly released (they were later leaked.) This secrecy garnered criticism, though the government did establish the Canadian panel on violence against women. More successful was the push for stricter gun laws, culminating the registration of firearms under Bill C-68, the Firearms Act or “gun registry,” introduced by the Chretien Government in 1995.
The École Polytechnique Massacre continues to be a powerful symbol for gun control advocates and women’s groups. December 6th is now commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, marked by public awareness campaigns and nationwide vigils. The gun registry has become an object of protracted and rancorous political debate, especially as the Harper Conservatives attempted to scrap it after their 2006 victory. This caused the opposition critics for women’s issues to boycott the government’s ceremony 20th anniversary ceremony in 2009, and for the organizers of a 2011 commemoration on Parliament Hill to specifically not invite Conservative MPs. Despite this, the government pushed forward and eliminated the registry in 2012, though Quebec is attempting to re-establish it provincially. The massacre remains Canada’s deadliest shooting and most pernicious example of violence against women.
Image Source: Toronto Star