Tuesday, December 6, 2011

22 years ago: A massacre in Montréal

Late in the afternoon of December 6 1989 the man, armed with a rifle and a knife, walked into one of the classrooms at the École Polytechnique engineering school (Université de Montréal.)[1] He ordered the (approximately forty to forty-five) men to one side of the room and the nine women to the other. When the students did not immediately respond to his demand he fired a shot into the ceiling. Then he ordered the men to leave the room. The man told the remaining women that they were "une gang de féministes" and said "J'haïs les féministes [I hate feminists]."

The man then shot all nine of the women, six fatally. Exiting the classroom the man went up and down the halls of the École Polytechnique demanding "I want women." He went in and out of rooms, he went into the cafeteria and he shot one woman through the closed and locked door of her office. When the man heard one of the women he had shot crying for help he returned to where she was lying took out his knife and stabbed her to death.

The man injured ten women, four men and killed fourteen women.

Finally, the man shot himself

The initial response of the Canadian public was horror and anger. Why did this happen, people asked. And others answered, Why are you so surprised that something like this finally happened? The Montréal massacre (as the event became known) seemed emblematic to many of the endemic levels of misogyny in much of Canadian life. Women came forward with stories of the verbal (and sometimes physical) brutality in Canadian universities in general and engineering schools in particular.

The man had left behind him notes and letters that indicated that he believed that the only reason he had not been accepted into engineering school was because open slots were being taken by women. Yet even with the statements he made and the writings he left behind there was a backlash against seeing the man's actions as anti-feminist. Some who resisted that interpretation looked for some clue in the man's childhood. Others framed any emphasis on societal misogyny as anti-male. Barbara Frum (famous in her own right as a television journalist in Canada and, yes, the mother of that David Frum) claimed that to say that the man's actions were a hate crime was to "diminish" their horror. Yes, Barbara Frum argued that it would diminish the death of fourteen women if we were to acknowledge that they had died because they were women.

The following summer I sat in a science class at a different university and listened to the (male) Professor apologize that both his Teaching Assistants were women "they make us give places to women these days" he explained. I can't remember the rest of the lecture that day. I stayed after class and approached the Professor, "don't you think it is a bad idea to complain about being forced to give assistantships to women after what happened in Montréal last year?" I asked. "Typical woman," he answered, "over reacting to everything."

As I left the classroom I noticed another student had also remained behind--a sad looking woman. We made eye contact as I passed her, "thank you," she said, "I don't think you were over reacting at all."

In memory of my fourteen sisters:
  • Annie St-Arneault
  • Annie Turcotte
  • Anne-Marie Edward
  • Anne-Marie Lemay
  • Barbara Daigneault
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz
  • Geneviève Bergeron
  • Hélène Colgan
  • Maryse Laganière
  • Maryse Leclair
  • Maud Haviernick
  • Michèle Richard
  • Nathalie Croteau
  • Sonia Pelletier

[1] For those who don't know the details of the Montréal Massacre Wikipedia is a good place to start.

1 comment:

  1. I remember hearing about this at the time it happened. I'm surprised anyone could see it as not being an anti-feminist action. Even though I'm sure there wasn't as much coverage here in the States, I don't recall anyone denying the anti-feminist nature of the crime, although it was presented as something of an aberration.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.