Montreal Massacre (1989)

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Montreal Massacre (1989)

Fourteen Canadian women who were murdered for being "feminists." Died on December 6, 1989: Geneviève Bergeron (21) was a second-year scholarship student in civil engineering; Hélène Colgan (23) was in her final year of mechanical engineering and looking forward to taking her master's degree; Nathalie Croteau (23) was in her last year of mechanical engineering; Barbara Daigneault (22) was in her final year of mechanical engineering and held a teaching assistantship; Anne-Marie Edward (21) was a first-year student in mechanical engineering; Maud Haviernick (29) was a second-year student in engineering materials, a branch of metallurgy, and a graduate in environmental design; Barbara Maria Klucznik (31) was a second-year engineering student specializing in engineering materials; Maryse Laganière (25) worked in the budget department of the Polytechnique; Maryse Leclair (23) was a fourth-year student in engineering materials; Anne-Marie Lemay (27) was a fourth-year student in mechanical engineering; Sonia Pelletier (28) was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering; Michèle Richard (21) was a second-year student in engineering materials; Annie St-Arneault (23) was a mechanical engineering student; Annie Turcotte (21) was a first-year student in engineering materials.

On December 6, 1989, on the second-to-last day of classes at the Ecole Polytechnique, the engineering school of the University of Montreal, in Quebec, Canada, 14 women were massacred. The killer Marc Lépine strolled into the school with a. 223 caliber Sturm, Ruger semi-automatic rifle, walked to the second floor corridor, and shot the first woman he encountered, Maryse Laganière , a recently married finance department employee. He then entered Room 303, which contained around 60 engineering students. In French, he told the women to move to one side of the room and the men to leave. The students thought it was a joke until Lépine fired two quick shots into the ceiling and said to the women, "You are all feminists. I hate feminists." He again instructed the men to leave the room. They did so without protest.

Out of the ten women students who remained, one tried to reason with him: "We're not feminists," she said. "We're only women who want an education." He replied by opening fire, and shot six women dead. He then walked out of the room and, moving from floor to floor, went to the cafeteria, where he killed three more women. He opened fire as soon as he entered Room 311; students scrambled beneath their desks. As he strolled across the desktops, he took aim at the women, and killed four more of them. In the melee, he also wounded 13 people, most of them women. Twenty minutes after the start of his rampage, Lépine shot himself in the head. It was the worst single massacre in Canadian history.

Lépine left a suicide note, but its exact contents were censored by the press. That same press, particularly the French-Canadian sector, was shocked and bewildered. How was it that the gunman killed only women? And why the Polytechnique? Most could not come up with answers to these questions. The media played down the overt sexism of the slayings. This was the isolated act of a madman, the experts maintained, and thus in no way a reflection of any larger strains in society. When some women tried to point out that isolated attacks of madmen were responsible for husbands murdering their wives all around the world, they were accused of exploiting the tragedy to further the cause of women. Women should not take this personally, warned politicians and experts. This was not the time to hold a forum on male violence. When some women used the word misogyny, they were accused of being shrill. "Yet if the killer had picked out a visible minority, everyone would have cried racism and remembered the Holocaust. Crimes against women have no history," wrote Élaine Audet in a letter submitted to but not published by Le Devoir. "Life goes on," said the talking heads.

Radio talk shows abounded with callers trying to understand the thinking of the young "madman." He had an unhappy childhood, an abusive father who beat his mother and his younger sister, bad relationships with women. Then again, said some callers, it had to be admitted that feminists have caused anger, that some men feel threatened. Why be surprised if some men explode, they explained, it's not like it used to be, when wives stayed at home. After all, women were taking jobs long held by men. "As more and more women … take their rightful place in society," wrote Audet at the time, "some men—so we hear—feel their identity is threatened. What kind of identity is this, if its existence is contingent on the non-existence of the Other?"

Less than a year later, some anonymous correspondent sent columnist Francine Pelletier of the Montreal daily La Presse a copy of the killer's suicide note. In essence: he killed for political reasons, he said, not economic. "I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker." He was enraged by feminists, he said, who wanted to keep the advantages of women (cheaper insurance and extended maternity leaves) while also taking advantages held by men. As a postscript, he appended a list of 19 women, "radical feminists," as he called them, whom he had intended to kill but sadly, he said, now lacked the time to do so. (Without their consent, the names and photographs of the women on this list were published; they included the vice-president of the Quebec union the CSN, and other women professionals, including a number of police officers.) "We don't understand," wrote Mireille Brais in a letter to Le Devoir at the time of the massacre, "because if we were to understand, we would know that the man who pulled that trigger was not alone."


Malette, Louise, and Marie Chalouh. The Montreal Massacre. Translated by Marlene Wildeman. Charlotte-town, Prince Edward Island: Gynergy Books, 1991.

"Montreal Massacre: Railing against feminists, a gunman kills 14 women on a Montreal campus, then shoots himself," in Maclean's magazine. December 18, 1989.

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Montreal Massacre (1989)

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