Remembering the Montreal Massacre

For 20 minutes on dark and gloomy 6 December 1989, an enraged gunman roamed the hallways of Montreal’s École Polytechnique University. Marc Lépine, 25, burst into an engineering classroom. He separated the men from the women and instructed the men to leave at gunpoint. Lépine declared his hatred of feminists, then began to brutally shoot the classroom of female engineering students with his new, legally obtained semi-automatic rifle.

While police forces assembled outside, he went on a rampage, specifically targeting women by shooting and even stabbing them with hunting knife at the school. By the time he turned the gun to himself, 14 women lay dead and 13 others were injured. It was later discovered in his three-page suicide note that he had included a list of prominent Canadian feminists from politicians to police women whom he planned to execute.

Lépine’s brutality shocked people across the globe. His act was solely motivated by his intention to drive women back to their conventional and conservative roles. He blamed feminists for ruining his life and strongly believed that independent women were pushing him out of his rightful opportunities.

Whilst the public struggled to make sense of Lépine’s delusion, almost overnight, this tragic event became a galvanizing moment where mourning turned into outrage and brought the issue of violence against women to the centre of attention. As a result, the White Ribbon Campaign was launched by a group of men who decided they had an obligation to speak out and raise awareness on male violence against women. Henceforth, since 1991, the anniversary of the massacre has been designated as a call to action against discrimination against women.

The effects of Lépine’s attack were not confined within the four walls of the university. He wanted to send a warning to all women who sought equality. He could not imagine a world in which women were strong, independent, vocal, educated and had equal opportunities. However, rather than being intimidated, women chose to honour those engineering students. They rose up to demonstrate in cities and towns across the country in defiance of Lépine’s warning.

Women connected Lépine’s act of violence to the sexism and prejudice that they endure on a daily basis. They connected Lépine’s act to other forms of violence against women, which stem from the same misguided belief that Lépine had–that women were unequal to men. Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive and harmful manifestations of gender inequality. According to UN Women, one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetrated by an intimate partner.

It has been 20 years since the historic 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing whereby UN member states including Malaysia, adopted Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to end all forms of violence against women and girls. Member states recognised that violence is one of the core mechanisms denying women equality, and that it imposes high social, health and economic costs. It is crucial that such efforts are monitored regularly to ensure that women not only have protection under the law, but that these laws translate into protection for women in reality.

Every year, 6 December marks the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, and this year is its 25th anniversary. Candles will be lit, people will gather, stories will be retold, and tears will shed once again as the fallen are remembered. In the words of the late feminist Andrea Dworkin, “It is incumbent upon each of us to be the woman that Marc Lépine wanted to kill. We must live with this honour, this courage. We must drive out fear. We must hold on. We must create. We must resist.”


Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) provides shelter, social work, and counseling services for domestic violence survivors and advocates for women’s human rights. Call our helpline at 03 7956 3488 if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, or SMS TINA at 018 988 8058 for a friend to talk to. Together, we change lives.

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