Twenty-three years ago today, Marc Lepine shot 28 people at The École Polytechnique in Montreal before killing himself. Fourteen of his victims -all women – died. Lepine claimed he was “fighting feminism”. He specifically targeted those women.

This is what I wrote on the 20th anniversary of The Montreal Massacre.


Montreal Massacre


There are things I sometimes hesitate to say. I’m wary of being confrontational lest I anger and ultimately alienate people, rather than persuade them.  I’m afraid of being unlikeable. I’m afraid of being hurtful. That makes some things hard to say

Today is the anniversary of The Montreal Massacre.  In the years since I’ve been blogging, I’ve acknowledge the event, usually by posting the names of women who were murdered along with a link to another piece of writing that reflects my own thoughts and feelings.  I happy to direct people to someone else’s words, if those words have affected me. But when it comes to expressing myself on the massacre, there’s a bit of cowardice involved.  I’d rather let someone else speak for me. That way I can avoid taking responsibility for my own opinion.

I was in grade 9 the day the massacre happened.  My after school ritual was soothingly banal: home to a blissfully empty house, where I would shut out the stresses of high school drama and unwind in front of the TV before my parents came home and made me do homework.   On Decemeber 6th, 1989 I turned on the TV.  No regularly scheduled programming. Instead an array of grainy, frenetic news images.  I changed the channel to find more of the same : newscasters speaking in frantic tones; the “Breaking News” banner rolled along the bottom of the screen; ribbons of yellow tape.  My initial reaction was excitement.  This had to be big. I’ve always felt guilty about that early thrill.  As kid who came-of-age in 1980s Toronto, home-grown mass-violence simply wasn’t on my radar.

Then I started listen.  I heard the word “shooting”; someone else said “gunned down”.  I saw images of body bags being wheeled into ambulances.  And people crying.  At the time those sobbing students looked like adults to me.  When I see the footage now, they’re all just kids.

I wasn’t excited anymore.  I was terrified. Part of me wanted to turn off the TV, to shut it all out. A bigger part of felt compelled to watch. I needed to understand what was happening.  I needed to understand why.

I kept watching.  I don’t remember at what point the motive for the shooting was revealed.  I do remember I was alone when I heard that this man had walked into a room, ordered the men out and shot the women.  Because they were women.

I started crying.  At fourteen I was making steps towards adulthood but news of that shooting sent me reeling back into childhood.  I wanted my  parents to come. I tried calling my mother at work but the person at the switchboard told me she had already left.  I curled up in a corner of my couch for what seemed like an eternity waiting for her.  I heard keys in the door and ran to meet her.  Anxious, I told her what was happening in Montreal.  She already knew.  She cried too.

That night, I didn’t sleep well.  I was haunted by the specter of man I had never seen, never met, never heard of until that day: Marc Lepine.

He shot the women.  Because they were women.  He wasn’t a villain in a movie or a misogynist historical tyrant from back in the olden days when people didn’t know that women were just as good as men.  It had happened that day.  In Canada.  In Montreal, a city close by, one I’d visited many times, as recently as that summer.

He shot the women.  Because they were women.  I imagined those women. I guessed that when they got up that day it had never crossed their minds that they’d be hurt.   I wondered how they had felt in the moment when the last man left the room and the door closed.   Did they scream?  Did they cry?  When he shot them did they die right away?  Did they suffer and feel pain?    I wondered what would I do?  What would I feel?  I don’t think I truly believed in sexism until that day. I certainly didn’t believe it was dangerous.  Now I believed.  If I had been in that room, just a few hours drive from where I lay sobbing in bed, I would have died.

Some people get very angry when Marc Lepine is characterized as an extremist and a madman.  I get that.  Yes, gunning down a room full of women is at the extreme end of the misogynist spectrum.   And yes it’s madness…but all bigotry is madness.  And even if that particular incident was anomalous, the attitude and beliefs that fueled the actions are all too insidious.  You don’t have to shoot a woman, or rape or hit her to be a misogynist.   All you have to do is treat her like something other than a human being.

I’ve often heard it said that we should remember the names of the victims, rather than that of Marc Lepine – a man who deserves no recognition.  I understand that rationale. And while it may make some people angry, today I’ve chosen to do the opposite. I will remember Marc Lepine and call him by name. Because Marc did this. Because Marc Lepine could have chosen not do it. Because Marc Lepine was the only person who could have prevented this tragedy.  Because the only people who can stop the proliferation of misognyny in this world are those who perpetrate it.   I believe that can happen.  It has to happen. I remember December 6th, 1989 and I say a quiet, agnostic prayer that someday it will happen.

Originally posted Decemeber 6th, 2009