Remembering the Montreal Massacre: 25 years later

TRU professor who reported on the shootings reminds us why the event is so important to remember

This plaque at the École Polytechnique in Montreal commemorates the 14 victims of the shooting. (Bobanny/Wikimedia Commons)

This plaque at the École Polytechnique in Montreal commemorates the 14 victims of the shooting. (Bobanny/Wikimedia Commons)

On Dec. 6, 1989, a gunman opened fire in a classroom at École Polytechnique, a university in Mon­treal, Quebec, killing 14 women. This act of gender-based violence was carried out because the male shooter, Marc Lépine, viewed his victims as “feminists,” who he believed should not be studying to become engineers.

This December marks the 25th anniversary of this tragic event now commonly referred to as the Mon­treal Massacre.

Maxine Ruvinsky, a journalism professor at TRU, was a reporter in Montreal at the time and was sent to report on the massacre.

“Twenty-five years, to me it’s like yesterday. I can remember every­thing. I can remember sitting at my desk…and through my tears writing the stories,” Ruvinsky said. “I covered that first night and I actually [saw] those parents in the hospital waiting to see if their children had survived or not.”

Before this tragedy, Ruvinsky had never feared walking down the streets of Montreal alone.

“It changed things. After the mas­sacre, I’d be walking down the street and a guy would be approaching me and I couldn’t help myself. I’d think to myself, ‘does he hate me because I’m a woman? Does he have a gun? Should I run? Is he going to hurt me?’” Ruvinsky said.

Every year since 1991, Dec. 6 commemorates the Montreal Mas­sacre as the National Day of Re­membrance and Action of Violence Against Women.

The Canadian Women’s Founda­tion, a group fighting to empower women and girls in Canada, states “gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms and the work­place. Both men and women receive many messages, both blatant and covert, that men are more important than women.”

Ruvinsky called gender bias “a bias so old…so ingrained and so much [a] part, like a fish doesn’t see the water that it swims in.”

“I would say that when I began ac­tively describing myself as a feminist was not long after becoming a father. As I watched them…overcome each systemic roadblock and confront as­sumptions about their gender, I be­came keenly sensitized to a world that seemed to be working against their interests,” said TRU communi­cations professor Mark Wallin.

Wallin was attending Trinity Western University when news of the massacre broke.

“I was, of course, shocked and terrified that something so violent could have happened on a university campus,” Wallin said.

Many see the massacre as a symbol of the issue of violence against wom­en due to the day of commemoration.

TRU journalism professor Maxine Ruvinsky was a reporter when the École Polytechnique shooting took place and reported on the event. (Ashley Wadhwani/The Omega)

TRU journalism professor Maxine Ruvinsky was a reporter when the École Polytechnique shooting took place and reported on the event. (Ashley Wadhwani/The Omega)

However, Ruvinsky believed that “if the government were truly inter­ested in addressing women’s issues they wouldn’t have killed the Nation­al Action Committee on the Status of Women, which Harper did when he first gained power.”

“I think they would change the laws about domestic abuse…all the studies show that the reason domes­tic abuse continues as a huge prob­lem and just gets worse…despite all the days of mourning, is that people get away with it,” she added.

Wallin said that the massacre rep­resents the way our society sees in­justice and pointed to disproportion­ate rates of poverty among women, the prevalence of unreported sexual assaults, a tolerated rape culture and a wage disparity that, he said, has lasted nearly his entire lifetime.

“The Montreal Massacre shows us all that it is society as a whole that objectifies women. We are to blame for what we teach our sons and daughters every day by means of the culture around them,” he said.

“We need to remove…toleranc­es for objectification. We need to make sure that men and women who speak disparagingly about women are called to task for it in that mo­ment. We need to push back against the symbolic violence so that there is no soil in which violent acts can take root.”

Ruvinsky highlighted actions, such as letters to the editor of your local or national newspaper, and recognizing that you do not have to be the leader of a mass movement to take action against this issue. She believes that the only solution for change is a “rev­olution by consciousness” from the individual.

“The more that people reach a con­viction that doesn’t keep them with their heads in the sand, whether male or female, and realize that it’s a better world if it’s not woman-hating… and a lot of things will be solved by not giving in to a woman-hating world,” Ruvinsky said.

“The worst thing is to go silent,” she said.

Students can pledge to raise awareness of gender-based violence in Old Main on Nov. 27 and 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be a table set up by the TRUSU equity com­mittee in front of Academic Advis­ing.

On Dec. 5, the TRUSU Equity Committee and the Thompson Riv­ers University Faculty Association Status of Women Committee will be holding a vigil for the 14 wom­en killed. The vigil will be in the Old Main Art Gallery near the Black Box Theatre.