A single white rose lay on one of the 14 monuments that honour each of the women who were shot and killed 20 years ago at Ã‰cole Polytechnique. Aside from the rose, the Place du
6 dÃ©cembre 1989 at the corner of Decelles Ave. and Queen Mary Rd. showed little sign of visitors or mourners last Saturday, one day before the anniversary of what has come to be known as the Montreal Massacre.
The scene at Polytechnique’s commemorative plaque was similar. Though flowers had been placed in the area reserved to remember the 14 women, no mourners were in sight.
The library buildings on campus seemed to have the most traffic, somewhat understandably, with the date of the anniversary coinciding with the end of the term.
The school held a private ceremony at the Notre-Dame Basilica Dec. 6 to mark the milestone anniversary of the day that also saw 13 people injured at the hands of Marc Lepine, who was 25 years old at the time.
“The school administration sent out an e-mail inviting current students to the ceremony,” said Georges Hage, a Polytechnique student since 2007.
But Hage, who was one year old when Lepine opened fire at Polytechnique in 1989, admitted he was more affected by the Dawson shooting in 2006, where a gunman claimed one victim before allegedly turning the weapon on himself. “We have to remember everyone of course, but the mood at the school is normal, I think,” he said, noting students have been talking more about the upcoming break and holidays, rather than what happened two decades ago.
An estimated 1,000 people attended the ceremony at the basilica, including 300 university staff and faculty members, some of whom were witness to the 45-minutes of terror Lepine brought to the school. Families of victims, survivors, and current students were also in attendance. Though the service was open to the press, no photography, filming, or recording was permitted in an effort to respect the victims and the privacy of the mourners.
Lepine had planned his attack. With the semi-automatic rifle he had purchased in hand, he entered a classroom and ordered the men out.
Before ending his own life that afternoon, Lepine targeted women, shouting that he hated feminists, killed 14 women, and injured another 10. Four men were also injured. A suicide note found on his body said that feminists had ruined his life.
Since that day, classes at Polytechnique, one of Canada’s largest engineering schools, have been cancelled on each Dec. 6. Some security changes have been made over the years, such as an enhanced system of collaboration with police. But, according to university spokesperson Annie Touchette, the struggle lies in finding a balance between students’ freedom, security, and peace of mind.
“Schools are places of learning,” she said. “The school isn’t a fortress, students aren’t in bunkers.”