5 December 2005

Montreal Massacre -- more than violence against women

On December 6, 1989, a 25 year-old man walked into the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and shot to death 14 women, wounding 13 others. The Montreal Massacre was an appalling tragedy which has now taken its place in Canadian history, remembered mainly as an ultimate example of male violence against women. The lives of the women who died are remembered with sadness and pride. The realization of this injustice, that ruined the lives and promise these women had to offer that can never be recovered, will not go away.The gunman, Marc Lepine, a Quebecker born Gamil Gharbi in 1964, is not thought of by people so much any more, old memories portraying him as inhuman, a representation that is met by many with revulsion.

The reasons behind this atrocious event - including Marc Lepine’s life - have never been adequately explored. Lepine saw himself as a political activist, but unable to resolve his own personal dilemma or what he saw as political wrongs in society. Instead of accepting his fate or leaving quietly he chose to use a violent means of making a political statement-by killing feminists-before ending his own life.

Responses to his actions for the most part focused on apparent weaknesses in his personality and academic worth, together with the abuse he endured in childhood, to back up the idea that within himself, Marc Lepine was less than a human being. Against this image of monstrosity, the memory of the 14 women he killed have been idealized, as representing innocence and feminist breaking of tradition, for instance, or as women killed simply because they were women. The 14 women killed included 12 engineering students, a student in nursing, and a data processing worker at the Ecole Polytechnique.

Soon after the shootings, Lepine was labelled a mass murderer, although in one crucial respect his actions did not fit the stereotype. Rather than selecting a target group on the basis of religion, race, social class or ethnic group, he selected his victims on the basis of gender. Consequently,the fact that women were the victims became the focus of attention, leading to violence against women being seen as the main social issue ensuing from the tragedy.

However, exploring the significance of this tragedy must go beyond looking at it as being mainly about violence against women. The wider social significance of the Montreal Massacre relates to ideas about work, relationships, and the possibility of fulfilment of human potential. Alongside these, consider the influence of race and ethnicity, and of class differences, on opportunities for participation and fulfilment in today's world.

Lepine's victims were Genevieve Bergeron, aged 21; Helene Colgan, 23; Nathalie Croteau, 23; Barbara Daigneault, 22; Anne-Marie Edward, 21; Maud Haviernick, 29; Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31; Maryse Leclair, 23; Annie St.-Arneault, 23; Michele Richard, 21; Maryse Leclair, 25; Anne-Marie Lemay, 22; Sonia Pelletier, 28; and Annie Turcotte, aged 21. Yet remaining fixed on the fact that it was women who were killed takes away from the social significance of the shootings at l'Ecole that day.

Memorials that commemorate the lives of the women who died are just one part of the multiple strands of memories of all those wounded within themselves by this tragedy. If something positive is to come out of the violence that Marc Lepine committed, it would involve a rethinking of how Lepine’s life is remembered, how the women are remembered, and recognition of changes brought about by feminism and its impact on the lives of the women and men of today. Now that time has passed, perhaps there will be a willingness to reconsider the lives of others involved, and how commemorations can be enhanced to reflect the lives of all those whose lives changed that day.

This article was originally published Dec 1st, 2005 in Western News: Comments. University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.

To read more:

Honouring victims of violence
Dowling, Karmen
Western News, UWO
Dec 5, 2005
http://communications.uwo.ca/western_news/story.html?listing_id=20358 broken link

Perspectives on the MontrealMassacre: Canada's Outrage Revisited
By Sue McPherson
Montreal Massacre website

Links updated April 16, 2012

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