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Canadian Schools To Shine Beams Of Light Into Sky To Honour Polytechnique Massacre Victims

The tragedy happened 30 years ago and will be commemorated in Montreal this week.
Staff Writer
Canadian Schools To Shine Beams Of Light Into Sky To Honour Polytechnique Massacre Victims

On December 6, 1989, an anti-feminist shooter killed 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique. The massacre is a stark reminder of how unchecked hate can cause unspeakable tragedies. 30 years after the tragedy, Montreal and 14 other Canadian universities will shine 14 beams of light into the sky to honour the victims of the massacre. 

The Polytechnique massacre has left an unmistakable scar on Canada and on the Montreal community. As the most deadly school shooting in Canadian history, the massacre is commemorated each year.

In 1991, the anniversary of the shooting was declared the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, or White Ribbon Day. A $30,000 national scholarship began in 2014 for the 25th anniversary of the tragedy. Also in 2014, the City of Montreal installed 14 searchlights on the summit of Mount Royal to honour the 14 victims. This year, Montreal is once again lighting the searchlights to honour the victims. 

At 5:10 p.m., the exact time that the first shots were fired, 14 light beams will alight the Montreal skyline above Mount Royal as the names of the victims are said aloud. Montrealers are invited to attend the event and keep vigil to honour the 14 women who were killed. 

14 Canadian universities, from Vancouver to Halifax, will also participate in the ceremony, shining 14 beams of light into the night sky. These lights will honour 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, who lost their lives during the massacre. 

In Montreal, the Governor General of Canada, the Honourable Julie Payette, will preside over the light ceremony on Mount Royal. 

We spoke to Annie Touchette, Senior Communications Advisor at École Polytechnique to get some perspective on the Montreal Massacre after 30 years.

What is most important about commemorating the Polytechnique tragedy? 

"When we commemorate the Polytechnique Tragedy, we honour these slain women, as well as take stock of the progress we’ve made – as an institution and as a society. Nowadays, it's considered normal and logical for women and men to have equal access to opportunities, be they educational, in terms of employment, or for parental leaves – but that wasn’t always the case."

Translation: Devoir de mémoire installation: literary works to remember #6december1989. Professors in Feminist Studies, in collaboration with the @reqef_, unveil their literary works at Pavilion 3200 Jean-Brillant.

"At Polytechnique, we’ve implemented a lot of different measures – Order of the White Rose scholarship, recruiting women, earning parity certification for women in leadership – to encourage women’s participation in the field of engineering and within our university."

From changing the wording on a park's commemorative sign to better reflect the anti-feminist intentions of the attack and even an internationally-acclaimed 2009 film, much has been done to commemorate the tragedy. 

The Polytechnique massacre undoubtedly stirs lingering trauma for many who experienced the event first-hand. Some still struggle with how someone could be motivated to commit such a hateful crime. 

Translation: During a commemoration ceremony at Parliament, the Medal of the National Assembly was awarded posthumously to the 14 women murdered on December 6, 1989, at Polytechnique. Here is the video of the National Assembly.

Do you believe enough has been done to honour the tragedy over the years?

"It’s important to remember the price paid by those 14 young women, full of promise, for simply wanting to learn and advance. There will always be more work to do in terms of evolving, but in the past 30 years, Polytechnique has worked to honour this tragedy and use it as a means to be progressive and inclusive."

Do you believe that we've progressed after 30 years of this tragedy, or do you think there is still a lot to learn from it?

"In a lot of tangible ways we’ve definitely progressed: in Polytechnique circa 1989, 17% of our student body were women, and in 2019 we’re at 28% of students being women. For reference, the Canadian average is 22%; and in some engineering fields, women and men have already reached parity."

"It’s clear there is still work to be done, but overall the trend in our university is positive. It will always be appropriate to remember those 14 women who were killed, because inequality is still an issue many women face, in engineering and in other fields too."

Touchette is hopeful that the tragic memory of the Polytechnique massacre will be a teaching moment for now and future generations. We must learn from the past to never make the same mistakes, after all. 

"Part of honouring the past is making sure that the present and future reflect what we’ve learned, over time – and there will always be lessons we can learn."

Montreal's Polytechnique commemoration ceremony will take place at the Belvédère Kondiaronk on Mount Royal on Friday, December 6 at 4:45 p.m. 

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