The Sexual Assault Centre for the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) held a memorial service on Thursday in Birks Heritage Chapel to remember the women who lost their lives 23 years ago in the December 6 massacre at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, and to raise awareness about the gendered violence and oppression that people face today.
In 1991, the Canadian Parliament declared December 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women to mark the anniversary of Marc Lépine’s shooting of 14 female engineers. He claimed he was “fighting feminism.”
Organized by the SACOMSS Special Projects coordinators, the memorial service featured speakers Dr. Lucille Marr, Annie Preston, and Myriam Arsenault-Jacques, as well as performances by McGill a cappella group Tonal Ecstasy, activist Stefan Christoff, and spoken word artist Lady Sin. The service was followed by a candle lighting ceremony and a reception.
Claudia Alexander, one of three SACOMSS Special Projects coordinators, told The Daily that “at least for someone having grown up in Montreal, [the shooting] was an event that […] is portrayed as the start of fighting [and] violence against women, when of course it’s been happening since society began.”
Madison Leia, a memorial organizer, agreed.
“It’s still very easy for people to ignore the fact that this is a systemic problem and we all have stories of how we’ve been victimized and harassed, how we’re survivors of untold violence against our bodies, whether it’s by the state or our friends or our partners,” said Leia.
Leia said that history does not always operate in a “linear progression,” and that this isn’t always visible day-to-day.
“I think that we are taught violence as children,” reflected Lady Sin. “I think that male-assigned children are taught that they have privilege and power and the right to female-assigned people’s bodies. I think that trans* people are erased from mainstream society’s memory and I think that women of colour – people of colour in general – are still dominated and exploited.”
“The whole story has a lot more to do with systemic violence and people who get invisibilized until something horrible happens,” Lady Sin said.
This systemic violence is rarely discussed at the University, a flaw that the memorial organizers pointed out in its institutional framework.
Memorial organizer Isabella Mancini said she believes the problem lies in “the way that Frosh is run, the fact that residences make it really, really difficult for people who are experiencing problems in Rez to speak about it and to move out of Rez […] and the way classes are totally ignorant to speaking about trans* folks and speaking about women.”
“I think McGill is a really good example of institutionalized ignorance, and I think that it’s really important to consider that,” Mancini added.
According to Alexander, this form of ignorance is not only propagated by the University but also by assumptions formed by students. “We make a lot of assumptions about what people experience within that institution, outside that institution, what their lives are like, [and] what it is to be continually categorized,” Alexander told The Daily.
For the memorial organizers and performers, working against systemic violence goes beyond the day of memorial and translates into their roles as students engaging with the University.
“I hope that people will continue to engage beyond the day of memorial and seek out tangible, as well as ideological, solutions to violence against women and trans* people,” said Lady Sin.
The École Polytechnique held a commemoration ceremony for the 14 women who were killed. A public assembly was also organized outside Palais de justice to condemn violence against women and remember victims of the shooting.