We were sitting at a large drafting table in the naval architecture lab in the Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering building at UBC when someone came in and said it had happened. My own initial emotion was of incredulous shock.
It took some time for the horrible reality of what had happened to trickle in: A heavily-armed young man had separated out women and then massacred them in the engineering school in Montreal. Because they were women and he was murderously
angry at women.
On December 6, 1989, when we first heard reports that a terrorist had attacked Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, I was a 2nd-year mechanical engineering student at UBC.
I will never forget where I was when I learned about it, because it is permanently seared into the memory of all Canadian women I know who were adults at the time.
Many of the victims were our age that day. We were enrolled in the same program as them: mechanical engineering. These women, whose lives were savagely snuffed out by that angry man’s rage, had beaten incredible odds just to be enrolled in mechanical engineering. They were students in a space that was already struggling with its toxicity to women.
Engineering is still too misogynistic and supremacist an industry for a proportional number of members of many marginalized communities to thrive in. STEM continues to have a difficult time retaining women.
That awful day, that awful man murdered 14 women because he resented so intensely that women had succeeded where he failed: that he was struggling at life in general. The idea that women were his equal or better than him in that endeavor was apparently too much for him. He was very much an early example of what we know as an “incel“, like the 25-year-old suspect in the 2018 Toronto van attack, who was charged with murdering 10 people—mostly women—and injuring several others. In a Facebook post published shortly before the attack, that man lauded “incels,” or involuntary celibates, declaring:
The Incel Rebellion has already begun!
The so-called rebellion aims to punish women for denying incels sex, which they view as a basic right for men.
These men are responsible for their own actions, and society is also responsible for being a place where such decisions are cultivated and chosen by these dangerous men.
Somehow he was taught before our very eyes that murdering women was an appropriate choice for the situation when he took his revenge by killing those 14 women, my peers and in so many ways my role models.
Killers who do such hate-motivated violence were somehow taught by a family, by a community, and by a society that the feelings they experienced and the rage they felt were reasonable.
They were taught the action they took were somehow justifiable.
Of course, these particular choice were not the desired or the specifically foreseen outcome that those who encouraged them were after, but nevertheless since their early childhood or since somebody began radicalizing them, the path of these killers was shaped to lead towards that day.
And of that lesson that our society taught those men who did such a vile, horrible thing, we can not wash our hands as a community. We were there and we participated in the society that made them, nearly 3 decades apart.
It was us, Canadians, who created and enabled his monstrous action by tolerating chauvinistic supremacy, or any other kind of supremacy. It was us as a society who taught him that he was entitled to certain things. Canada taught that boy to become the man he became and that if he did not get his things, expressing his rage in a spasm of violence unseen to this day in Canada was an option.
Please read the names of the 14 women murdered by a male supremacist in the Montreal Massacre at Ecole Polytechnique De Montreal and reflect about our society today and about our role in future spasms of violence.
I would like us to all ask ourselves how supremacist ideas like misogyny, religious intolerance, racial bias, homophobia, or transphobia, when allowed to blow across our society unchecked, can transform into a murderous storm that takes the lives of the people it targets like it did on December 6, 1989.
We must learn from the terrible lessons of our past. Please join me today and every year in reflecting on what our communities our society, our friends and colleagues, and you we personally can do to help us all make a better place tomorrow than we have had so far.
Let’s ensure Canada is not a place where someone can be radicalized by the influence of hateful whispers of casual intolerance and entitlement only to one day explode into a murderous rage that “nobody saw coming” as they lash out so horribly.
This was not such an isolated incident. Think about the Quebec Mosque massacre. Think about the highway of tears. Think about the trans and queer folks driven to suicide by the monstrous consequences of oppression and bigotries. Think about the entitlement reflected in sexual assault and rape.
I invite us all to reflect on why those 14 women were murdered on December 6, 1989. Think about why the same thing happened again with a different weapon in 2018.
Let’s Reflect on what these killer must have been taught to come to feel the entitlement to do what they did. Let’s read the name of each victim of their hatred. Let’s harness our sadness and our fury caused by these horrible acts that targeted women because two men were angry at themselves.
I urge us all to reflect on what we think our society should be doing differently in order to dampen the supremacist poison that harms us all. In these two cases the poison was misogyny and it turned boys into enraged mass-murderers of women.
Let’s read the names aloud of the women killed by hatred.
Victims of the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal massacre
Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student.
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student.
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student.
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student.
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student.
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student.
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department.
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student.
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student.
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student.
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student.
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student.
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student.
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student.
Victims of the 2018 Toronto van attack
Mary Elizabeth (Betty) Forsyth, 94
Renuka Amarasingha, 45
Anne Marie D’Amico, 30
Munir Najjar, 85
So He Chung, 22
Chul Min Kang, 45
Dorothy Sewell, 80
Andrea Bradden, 33
Ji Hun Kim, 22
Geraldine Brady, 83