Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Mystique of the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre

The Mystique of the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre

By Furano Yukihira
The Daily Magi
November 4, 2059


The École Polytechnique Massacre, also known as the Montreal Massacre, occurred on December 6, 1989 at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Twenty-five-year-old Marc Lépine, armed with a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, shot twenty-eight people before killing himself. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. After claiming that he was "fighting feminism" and calling the women "a bunch of feminists," he shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women to shoot. Overall, he killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men in just under twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself. Lépine was the son of a French-Canadian mother and an Algerian father, and had been physically abused by his father. His suicide note claimed political motives and blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note included a list of nineteen Quebec women whom Lépine considered to be feminists and apparently wished to kill.

Since the attack, Canadians have debated various interpretations of the events, their significance, and Lépine's motives. Many feminist groups and public officials have characterized the massacre as an anti-feminist attack that is representative of wider societal violence against women. Consequently, the anniversary of the massacre has since been commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Other interpretations emphasize Lépine's abuse as a child or suggest that the massacre was simply the isolated act of a madman, unrelated to larger social issues. Still other commentators have blamed violence in the media and increasing poverty, isolation, and alienation in society, particularly in immigrant communities.

The incident led to more stringent gun control laws in Canada. It also introduced changes in the tactical response of police to shootings, which were later credited with minimizing casualties at the Dawson College shootings.

Male survivors of the massacre have been subjected to criticism for not intervening to stop Lépine. In an interview immediately after the event, a reporter asked one of the men why they "abandoned" the women when it was clear that Lépine's targets were women. René Jalbert, the sergeant-at-arms who persuaded Denis Lortie to surrender during his 1984 attack, said that someone should have intervened at least to distract Lépine, but acknowledged that "ordinary citizens cannot be expected to react heroically in the midst of terror." Newspaper columnist Mark Steyn suggested that male inaction during the massacre illustrated a "culture of passivity" prevalent among men in Canada, which enabled Lépine's shooting spree: "Yet the defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lepine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate—an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history."

Male students and staff expressed feelings of remorse for not having attempted to prevent the shootings, but Nathalie Provost, one of the survivors, said that she felt that nothing could have been done to prevent the tragedy, and that her fellow students should not feel guilty.

The feminist movement is periodically criticized for appropriating the massacre as a symbol of male violence against women. For example, Charles Rackoff, a University of Toronto computer science professor, compared those organizing vigils marking the event to the Ku Klux Klan. "The point is to use the death of these people as an excuse to promote the feminist/extreme left-wing agenda", he wrote, adding that it is "no more justified" than the KKK using the "murder of a white person by a black person as an excuse to promote their agenda."

Other critics argue that Lépine was a "lone gunman" who does not represent men, and that violence against women is neither condoned nor encouraged officially or unofficially in western culture. In this perspective, feminist memorializing is considered socially divisive on the basis of gender and therefore harmful by bestowing guilt on all men, irrespective of individual propensity to violence against women. Masculinist and anti-feminist commentators suggest that feminism has provoked violence against women, and without condoning the shootings, view the massacre as an extreme expression of men's frustrations. A few regard Lépine as a hero of masculism, and glorify his actions.

Since 1991, the anniversary of the massacre has been designated the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, intended as a call to action against discrimination against women. A White Ribbon Campaign was launched in 1991 by a group of men in London, Ontario, in wake of the massacre, for the purpose of raising awareness about the prevalence of male violence against women, with the ribbon symbolizing "the idea of men giving up their arms." Commemorative demonstrations are held each year on December 6 across the country in memory of the slain women and numerous memorials have been assembled. In commemoration of the event, December 6 is a day off every year in Polytechnique.

The Place du 6-Décembre-1989 in the Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough of Montreal was created as a memorial to the victims of the massacre. Located at the corner of Decelles Avenue and Queen Mary Road, a short distance from the university, it includes the art installation Nef pour quatorze reines (Nave for Fourteen Queens) by Rose-Marie Goulet. It is the site of annual commemorations on December 6.

A memorial erected in Vancouver sparked controversy because it was dedicated to "all women murdered by men", which critics say implies all men are potential murderers. As a result, women involved in the project received death threats and the Vancouver Park Board subsequently banned any future memorials that might "antagonize" other groups.

The event has also been commemorated through references in television, theatre, and popular music. A play about the shootings by Adam Kelly called The Anorak was named as one of the best plays of 2004 by the Montreal Gazette. A movie entitled Polytechnique, directed by Denis Villeneuve was released in 2009, and sparked controversy over the desirability of reliving the tragedy in a commercial film.

Additionally, several songs have been written about the events in different musical genres, including "Give Us Back The Night" by folk-rock duo Open Mind, "Montreal Massacre" by the death metal band Macabre, "This Memory" by the folk duo the Wyrd Sisters, and "14 (for December 6)" by spoken-word artist Evalyn Parry.

In 2008, Marc Lépine's mother Monique published Aftermath, a memoir of her own journey through the grief and pain of the incident. She had stayed silent until 2006, when she decided to speak out for the first time in the wake of that year's Dawson College shooting.

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