Allison Hanes: Setting the historic report straight on Polytechnique

The signal within the park now acknowledges the École Polytechnique taking pictures as an “anti-feminist assault.”

Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

It’s an unusual gray signal with white lettering, like those hanging in each different Montreal park.


However the phrases on the panel within the Parc-du-6-décembre-1989 lastly mirror the extraordinary horror of one of many darkest days on this metropolis’s historical past.

On that notorious date, a gunman burst into the lecture rooms of close by École Polytechnique, instructed the lads to go away and murdered 14 girls. However for a long time, a spot meant to commemorate the bloodbath was unusually silent. A panel referred to the atrocity cryptically as a “tragic occasion.” 

Thirty years later, the historic report has been set straight. The signal within the park now acknowledges the Polytechnique taking pictures as an “anti-feminist assault.”


Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Côtes-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough Mayor Sue Montgomery, who determined to change the wording on the behest of feminist students, are to attend a ceremony Thursday to mark this necessary change.

It could appear apparent as we speak, however this acknowledgment got here after an extended and painful reckoning.

Mélissa Blais, a professor at UQAM, fought to right the memorial for a decade.


Pierre Obendrauf /

Montreal Gazette

Mélissa Blais, a professor on the Institut des recherches et d’études féministes at l’Université du Québec à Montréal, has been combating to right the outline for a decade now. She had written a ebook referred to as J’haïs les feministes — the gunman’s declaration when he entered the primary engineering class. It examined how the discourse across the assault has developed.


Within the speedy aftermath, many feminists spoke out, whereas others lived in concern. However society at massive appeared to be in denial concerning the misogynistic nature of the bloodbath. Maybe it was too tough to simply accept.

“We believed that Marc Lepine was type of the final of the dinosaurs and society had modified so much and that we’d reached a sure degree of equality. There was a little bit of a rejection, a refusal to take a look at the persevering with inequalities between women and men,” Blais mentioned in an interview.

“The social cohesion was referred to as into query by the assault, and we labored very laborious to re-establish that social cohesion.”


After 20 years,  Blais thought the time had come to face details. Backed by the Conseil des Montréalaises, she requested the town to switch the sign up 2009. However the request was refused.

Final February, Blais tried once more. In a letter to the town and the borough, she deplored the actual fact the panel “affords so little in the best way of an evidence” as to render the memorial park meaningless.

“What ‘tragedy?’” the letter questioned. “The collapse of a constructing? An explosion in a laboratory? A hearth? A flood? The act of commemoration can solely profit from a extra exact clarification of the character of the ‘tragedy.’”


Sanitized language minimized the magnitude of the worst taking pictures spree in Canadian historical past. And it appeared particularly odd to minimize the killings in a metropolis nonetheless scarred by them.

Her arguments resonated with Plante and Montgomery.

“Pretty rapidly, they mentioned they had been going to do it,” Blais mentioned. “Partly it’s because of the truth that we have now feminine mayors in cost, feminists, who’ve that understanding of what it means.”


As a younger girl, Plante mentioned the taking pictures had a deep influence.

“For a very long time I felt like society let me down as a feminist. I felt deserted,” Plante mentioned in a latest interview. “When you possibly can’t name one thing what it’s, it’s a negation.”

As mayor, she feels a duty to make sure the legacy of the bloodbath is remembered in a significant method.


“I’ve the sensation as mayor that I’m doing one thing concretely to re-establish historical past,” Plante mentioned. “It provides me huge consolation as a lady that lastly, we acknowledge, we’re calling it what it was — it was an assault. He wasn’t simply there to kill folks — he was there to kill girls. It was an anti-feminist act.”

Many individuals passing by way of the park might not know concerning the Polytechnique taking pictures, Montgomery mentioned, so an correct signal is required to teach, inform and construct consciousness about violence towards girls.

“Though it’s harsh to face the truth that these girls had been killed as a result of they had been girls, as a result of they had been feminists, I believe it’s necessary to say it like it’s,” she mentioned. “For those who’re going to alter something, you need to name it what it was, and never some tragedy by some loopy man or an remoted incident.”


Remembering the previous additionally holds necessary classes for the current and the longer term, added Blais.

“The collective reminiscence is so necessary, as a result of it might forestall the reoccurrence of this sort of drama,” she mentioned. “It’s a bit like we’re making an attempt to forestall one other assault. And to do it, we have now to mirror on all the things that was happening on the time, on the origins of this hatred of girls and feminists.”