Polytechnique Tragedy

On December 6, 1989, a young man, Marc Lépine, burst into a class at Montréal's École Polytechnique armed with an automatic weapon. He separated the male and female students and fired point blank on the latter screaming, "You are all feminists." Fourteen young women were murdered and 13 other people wounded. Lépine then turned his gun on himself and committed suicide. Later, a list of eminent women was found whom he had identified as "feminists to slaughter."

Memorial plaque on the exterior wall of école Polytechnique commemorating the victims of the massacre.

This event provoked violent shock waves with multiple repercussions in Québec and beyond. From the initial days following the massacre and for a long time afterwards, the media echoed strong differences of opinion about its explanation and meaning. For some, Marc Lépine's action had purely psychological origins: it was an isolated act without social significance. For others, on the contrary, it revealed in a tragic way a profound malaise about the place of women in Québec society. For some, and for the feminists themselves, this tragedy demonstrated deep-rooted and widespread anti-feminist feeling as well as violence against women. Press coverage in particular was criticized: the feminist movement did not hesitate to speak of a real 'smear campaign against women' and accused the media of ignoring women's expertise on male violence.

The tragic event also had an impact on the fight for the control of firearms. After the events of December 6, Heidi Rathjen and Wendy Cukier founded the Coalition for Gun Control, and their efforts contributed to the November 1995 adoption of a federal firearm control legislation.

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