École Polytechnique Tragedy (Montreal Massacre)

On December 6, 1989, a man named Marc Lépine entered a mechanical engineering classroom at Montreal's École Polytechnique armed with a semi-automatic weapon. After separating the women from the men, he opened fire on the women while screaming, "You are all feminists." Fourteen young women were murdered, and thirteen other people wounded. Lépine then turned the gun on himself. In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note contained a list of "radical feminists” who he says would have been killed if he had not run out of time. It included the names of well-known women in Quebec, including journalists, television personalities, and union leaders.

Memorial plaque on the exterior wall of École Polytechnique commemorating the victims of the massacre.
(courtesy WikiCommons)

The event, which became known as the “Montreal Massacre,” sent shock waves through Quebec and the rest of Canada. In the days and weeks that followed, there was widespread public debate focused on the cause of, and motive for, the attack. For some, Marc Lépine's action was an isolated act without any social significance. For others, it revealed a profound malaise about the place of women in Quebec society. Many suggested that the tragedy was indicative of deep-rooted and widespread anti-feminist sentiment.

The event led to larger debates about violence against women and stricter gun control laws in Canada. After the events of December 6, Heidi Rathjen and Wendy Cukier founded the Coalition for Gun Control. Their efforts contributed to the November 1995 adoption of Bill C-68, the federal firearm control legislation.

In 1991, the Parliament of Canada declared December 6 to be a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It is also known as White Ribbon Day.


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