Thirty years after the Ecole Polytechnique massacre and the City of Montreal has changed the memorial sign which marks the Dec. 6 1989 slaughter of 14 women.
It used to mention “tragic events” but the updated version states the bare facts and recognizes the anti-feminist nature of the massacre.
Three decades ago 25-year-old Mark Lepine walked into a classroom armed with a legally obtained rifle and yelled, “You’re a bunch of feminists and I hate feminists.” He separated the male students from the female students and started shooting, before turning the gun on himself.
As the sombre anniversary dawns each year, Yellowknifer Linda Bussey, executive director of La Federation franco-tenoise, is brought back to that day, 30 years ago.
The former city councillor was a 30-year-old student at Ecole Polytechnique at the time of the shooting — but was studying on another campus that day.
“It brings me back to my life there and what that day felt like,” Bussey recalls. “You feel like a part of you is gone or you just feel like you lost something.
“It was very shocking. It changed so many things in Montreal at that time. There wasn’t anybody who didn’t feel bad or feel an emotion from it.”
Today, Yellowknifers will remember those who were lost in the massacre, those that have been lost since, and the reverberations gender-based violence has left on Canadian society and across the North.
Statistics regularly show the Northwest Territories has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Canada, second only to Nunavut.
Louise Elder, executive director of the Status of Women Council of the NWT, said the 30th anniversary is a time for reflection.
“We still live with the risk and threat of violence on a daily basis in our country and around the world,” she said.
Elder said the most sobering reality is that statistics involving violence against women, especially in the North, haven’t changed much over the last decade.
Statistics Canada states the NWT has about eight to nine times the national rate of intimate partner violence — the vast majority of which is men against women.
The GNWT does have the Domestic Violence Treatment Options Court (DVTO), which is an alternative court process allowing people who have used violence against a spouse to take responsibility for their behaviour and receive support and counselling. The GNWT is also looking at introducing domestic violence leave, a measure activists say will give victims the opportunity to leave their partners and find homes for themselves and their children without jeopardizing their employment.
That’s a positive step forward.
But it’s also important to remember the past.
The vigil will take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Calvary Community Church and will include selected members of the community laying 14 red roses to remember each of the women killed at Ecole Polytechnique.
A fifteenth, purple rose will be laid to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. A final red rose is then laid during the ceremony to remember all who have lost their lives to violence over the 30 years since the massacre.
The event this year will include a group lighting of candles. Each guest will receive a candle when they arrive.
Improvements are needed to address the horrible rates of violence against women in the NWT. Alcohol, drug addiction, poverty and isolation all play a part in the epidemic.
Ceremonies are important to show society is remaining vigilant and they help promote a message that violence toward women and children should never be accepted. But all men really need to get that message.
Because in order to change things, we must first accept the present reality.
It is important to face our past in order to take — individually and as a complete society — our responsibility in the fight against violence against women and girls.