Trigger Warning: gender based violence, gun violence
On December 6, 1989, an armed man walked into an engineering class at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal and ordered the men to leave before he began shooting. “I hate feminists” he said, killing 14 women in the class and injuring ten more.
December 6, 2019, marked 30 years since the attack at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. On this day, 14 universities across Canada, including UBC Okanagan, took part in honouring the victims of this tragedy.
The service at UBCO was held in the Engineering building’s foyer from 12p.m. to 1p.m. During the service, UBCO engineering students walked across the stage one-by-one and shared the name, major and age of each woman who was killed, and then laid down a white rose in their honour.
The School of Engineering also unveiled a 14 Not Forgotten plaque that is now permanently situated in the EME foyer. The plaque reads the names of the women lost to this attack: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.
As a third-year civil engineering student, the 30th anniversary of this attack was in the midst of my fifth exam season at UBCO, and while I would normally be overwhelmed with stress, on December 6, I was instead overcome with sorrow. I was lucky enough to have the chance to do what 14 other women had stolen from them; the chance to study and excel in the field of science.
These women were killed for pursuing careers in science and mathematics, which were traditionally regarded as male-dominated fields. Sadly, these fields continue to be dominated by men to this day. In my third-year civil engineering classes of around 100 people, it would be challenging to count more than 20 women on any given day.
Despite many strides forward, the sad truth is that gender-based violence against women and girls still persists in today’s society, and often intersects with people of colour, people of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community and Indigenous peoples. Canada has established December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in response to the l’École Polytechnique de Montréal attack and as a reminder of the continued prevelance of gender-based violence in Canada as well as the rest of the world.
I read a quote on twitter by Mika McKinnon, a Professor at UBC Vancouver, that read “It’s a fundamental law of physics that energy is neither created nor destroyed. People live on in the stories we tell.” Following the 30th anniversary of this tragedy, we must continue sharing the stories of the women lost to the attack. We must also use our voices to challenge gender-based violence and stigmas until women are able to take up the space that they deserve and feel safe while doing so.