22 Years Later
~by Jonathan McLeod
I was 13. I couldn’t fathom that my sister’s life could be worth any less than mine. I would never have thought that the girls I knew and loved, friends like Kim and Andrea and Mandy, should be erased, simply because they were girls. I never would have thought a man would have walked into an engineering class in Montreal, segregated the women, and shot them.
December 6, 1989 brought horror to our world, as Marc Lepine entered École Polytechnique with one purpose, to kill women. As most reports will say, he walked through the school, through classrooms, hallways and a cafeteria, hunting women. He was heard to decry feminism; he was heard to call out, “I want women”. In the end, he killed 14, all women, and from what I can tell, Canada has never been the same.
It’d be easy enough to say that this apparent change was nothing more than a Kevin Arnold-like coming of age on my part – the result of witnessing tragedy just as I was becoming aware of the world – but with every year, even as we lose the memories or forget the names, the massacre looms, bringing the sadness of too much hope taken far too soon.
December 6 is a day that Canada reflects on the violence, injustice and oppression brought against women. Memorial services are held, and we hear calls for ever more measures to end the abuse that women suffer as a result of their sex. Inevitably, politics will be inserted into our remembrance, as calls for greater gun control or increased funding for crisis centres are heard. Partisanship aside, calls to end violence against women are à propos.
This year, we have continued to learn about the neglect our institutions have paid to crimes against women. Revelations that the Coquitlam police cared very little about the women (sometimes homeless, sometimes prostitutes) who were abducted and murdered by Canada’s now-notorious serial killer, Robert Pickton, are our most recent disgrace. (The police, you see, had better things to do.)
Since Polytechnique, over 700 aboriginal women have gone missing or been killed, but there is still no strategy to fight this. Murders of prostitutes regularly go unsolved, mainly because they go under-investigated.
Time, I hope, has brought peace to the families, friends and victims of Marc Lepine. The school – still suffering, no doubt – has chosen a modest observance this year, placing 14 white roses at the memorial.
There is a vacant feeling every December. We know that we have suffered loss, even though we will never know the depth of that loss. But that sense of loss remains. We feel it each year as we remember Geneviève, Hélène, Nathalie, Barbara, Anne-Marie, Maud, Maryse, Maryse, Anne-Marie, Sonia, Michèle, Annie, Annie and Barbara. I would not want to live in a community that forgets.