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