Governor General Julie Payette said she feels a personal connection to the women massacred at École Polytechnique 30 years ago.
“I am an engineer. I am a woman engineer, and on Dec. 6, 1989, I was studying engineering like my colleagues,” she said at the ceremony Friday evening. “I was at Cornell University by choice. I wasn’t there to change the statistics or to defy the norms, by ideology or as a militant. I was there because I loved the profession and I wanted to make a career, like my sisters who died at Polytechnique 30 years ago.”
Under a grey sky with light snow falling — a carbon copy of the weather 30 years earlier — dignitaries, families of the victims and ordinary Montrealers gathered at the iconic lookout at Mount Royal to pay homage to the women. The ceremony got underway at 5:10 p.m., the same time Marc Lépine began his shooting rampage 30 years before. Lépine went into classrooms and told the men to leave while he shot the women, he also wandered the halls and cafeteria targeting women. In all 14 women were killed and 14 others were wounded.
Several representatives laid white roses before a mosaic of photographs of the 14 women as a choir sang a haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The names of the women were read out loud by current Polytechnique students, while 14 pillars of light were switched on and pointed into the sky, merging together into one point high above the city. The women killed on that day were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.
This year, for the first time, light beams were simultaneously projected at 14 other universities across Canada and a live video broadcast three of these installations on large screens set up near the Mount Royal Chalet.
Catherine Bergeron, whose older sister Geneviève was among those killed, spoke for the families and said the annual ceremony is a reminder that women and men must work together to stamp out violence in all forms.
“These women’s respective lives and destinies were shattered, which has left us with the obligation to reflect on this loss,” she said. “These 14 beams of light let us know where we are, and above all, they help guide us to where we want to be.”
A stark reminder of persisting anti-female violence came just minutes before the ceremony began, as news organizations reported the arrest of Montrealer Jean-Claude Rochefort, 70, charged with inciting hate against women, the second time the man — who police say is an anti-feminist and an admirer of Lépine — was arrested for such a crime.
Speaking last, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got warm applause when he reaffirmed his government’s commitment to ban assault-style rifles, like the one used by Lépine. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Canada instituted a firearms registry, but that registry was cancelled by the previous Conservative government.
“We will raise our daughters to be anything they want to be and to be free from fear, and we will raise our sons to be allies and to be feminists, and we will keep fighting every day for a better world,” Trudeau said.