The Montreal Massacre: Still Dying After All These Years


Wednesday, December 4 2019

At 5pm on December 6, 1989, a young man entered a mechanical engineering class at École Polytechnique in Montreal. He ordered the fifty male students to leave, and panning from left to right, systematically shot all nine women in the lecture hall. He then moved through the building, targeting other women for twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself. Fourteen women died, ten women and four men were injured in what remains the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history. 

Thirty years on, we still treat the Montreal Massacre as though it were a sort of feminine Vimy Ridge. We chisel the names of the dead women into granite, we lower flags, and we make December 6th a National Day of Remembrance.

We behave as though the war is over. 

The truth of the matter is that despite over forty years of strenuous effort by powerful bodies such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the World Medical Association, male violence against women continues unabated. In November last year, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called it a “global pandemic” and declared that the most dangerous place for a woman is now in her home. Former UN commander Major General Patrick Cammaert, has said “it is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier”.

Narrow the aperture to Canadian soil, and the banal matter-of-factness of male predation becomes frightening clear.

Every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her male partner or ex-partner. (Canadian Women’s Foundation) 

One in four Canadian women will experience intimate partner violence or sexual violence in her lifetime. (World Health Organization)

On any given night in Canada, 3,400 women and their 2,700 children sleep in women’s shelters to escape abuse.  (Stats Canada: “Shelters for abused women in Canada”)

At least one in five women attending Canadian colleges or universities will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduates. (The Canadian Federation of Students).

In the years since the Montreal massacre, there has been much speculation about the killer’s motives. He had a troubled childhood…his father was brutal and absent…he was rejected by the Canadian Armed Forces etc. etc.  His actions have been ascribed to a potpourri of mental conditions from psychosis to attachment disorder with the usual suspects of poverty, isolation, and powerlessness thrown in for extra causal measure.

But the three-page suicide letter found in the pocket of his jacket says it all. Feminists had ruined his life. In his mind, the young female engineering students – none of whom professed to be feminists – were seen to have taken something from him by daring to enter a profession historically dominated by men. They were marked for death because they were women who made the dangerous assumption that they belonged in the world.

Although it is critical to re-visit the Dec 6th Montreal massacre every year, we need to look beyond it to the deeper meaning of the day. Every act that exists on the spectrum of male violence against women – from the micro-aggressions of objectification and intellectual disregard all the way to femicide - happens because women are viewed as intrinsically less valuable, less human than men. 

The December 6th National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Woman must serve as a call for change and awareness of the power dynamic existing globally between men and women.

As I write this article, it is November 11th.and people have gathered world-wide to honour the victims of the various armed conflicts that dot our collective history. 

The armistice that women long for will never occur unless - and until - we acknowledge that the war against us is still being waged.