The commemorative plaque is seen on the outside wall at the Polytechnique in Montreal, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. Sunday will mark the 31st anniversary of the murder of 14 women in an antifeminist attack at Ecole Polytechnique on December 6, 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The commemorative plaque is seen on the outside wall at the Polytechnique in Montreal, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. Sunday will mark the 31st anniversary of the murder of 14 women in an antifeminist attack at Ecole Polytechnique on December 6, 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Scaled-back, virtual ceremonies to mark 31st anniversary of Polytechnique killings

Advocates say the issue of gender-based violence is more urgent than ever

The anniversary of the attack that cut short the lives of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique has become a day to reflect and call for action to end gender-based violence, but this year those moments will largely take place alone rather than in groups.

Most of the traditional events, including wreath-layings, speeches and a ceremony to project beams of light into the sky from the Mount Royal lookout, will proceed either virtually or without crowds in what one survivor of the shooting says is sure to be a “difficult” year.

“There’s a lot of human warmth in my life surrounding Dec. 6, a lot of emotions linked to those gatherings, and this year it’s a lot cooler,” said Nathalie Provost, who was shot four times when a gunman stormed Ecole Polytechnique in 1989.

Fourteen women, many of them engineering students, were killed and more than a dozen people were injured in an attack motivated by the gunman’s hatred towards women.

Provost, spokeswoman for gun control group PolySeSouvient, said the efforts to remember the event have gone on, even though health regulations mean people can’t congregate in-person.

Earlier this week, a $30,000 scholarship known as the Order of the White Rose was presented to Cree student Brielle Chanae Thorsen, who Provost describes as an “amazing young woman” and engineering student.

And on Sunday at noon, Provost will join a panel of speakers at a park named in honour of the women for a commemoration that will be broadcast online.

But Provost fears participation may be lower this year, noting people are tired of staring at screens.

“Gatherings are important for mourning and for commemoration, and now we’re trying to do them virtually, and my impression is that it’s much harder to achieve,” she said.

This diminished participation may come at a time when advocates say the issue of gender-based violence is more urgent than ever.

Elisabeth Fluet-Asselin, a spokeswoman for the Quebec Women’s Federation, said the pandemic has led to increased demand for women’s shelter space, difficulty in accessing services, and mental health struggles brought on by isolation. She said some groups are particularly affected, including Indigenous women, members of the LGBTQ community, women with disabilities and those in prison.

In addition to a Sunday ceremony at a Montreal park, the federation has organized a number of virtual events as part of its 12 days of action, including podcasts, videos, panel discussions, and art and poetry events — all designed to highlight and denounce the systemic nature of gender-based violence.

“Violence against women is not just physical, domestic, or sexual, there are lots of other kinds and we can’t forget them, especially in the current context,” Fluet-Asselin said in an interview.

Provost, for her part, worries about a rise in online abuse spread on social media, which she said can lead to real, violent consequences.

Over the years, Provost said her own emotions surrounding what happened to her during the massacre tend to ebb and flow.

This year, she mostly feels tired, and frustrated at the slow pace of change when it comes to gun control.

Provost said she was encouraged by a previously announced federal plan to ban some 1,500 types of assault-style firearms. But she said there’s still much she’d like to see, including a ban on handguns, stronger tools for police to intervene in so-called “red flag” situations, and action to address the guns currently in circulation.

Eventually, she hopes to turn the page on the shooting, and let the anniversary become a day of quiet remembrance. Instead, she says the opposite seems to be happening as victims of shootings in Toronto, Quebec City and Nova Scotia add their voices to those calling for change.

“We don’t need any more commemorations,” she said.

“We don’t want to create new ones. We want it to stop.”

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Shooting

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Royal Roads University president Philip Steenkamp said they are aware of hateful graffiti spray-painted in an area of the forest surrounding the campus. The graffiti in question includes anti-Semitic content and a racial slur towards Black people. (Facebook/Royal Roads University)
Anti-Semitic, hateful graffiti spotted in forest near Royal Roads University

Royal Roads working with West Shore RCMP to remove graffiti “as soon as possible”

A cougar was spotted at Royal Roads University on Sunday, Jan. 24. The sighting was reported on the western edge of the campus. (File photo)
Cougar spotted at Royal Roads University Sunday afternoon

Animal reported on western side of campus near Colwood Fire Department

Saanich-based St. Luke’s Players community theatre company has been making the most of their opportunities to keep busy during the pandemic, including staging a Christmastime panto of Alice in Wonderland on Zoom. (Courtesy St. Luke’s Players)
Saanich’s St. Luke’s Players: Bringing the stage to the people

Community theatre company holding online auditions Jan. 23-24 for March production

Frank Bourree was awarded the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s first Governors’ Award of Distinction for his leadership in the business community. (Courtesy of Frank Bourree)
Frank Bourree receives award of distinction from Victoria chamber

Award recognizes positive role model in business community

The Habitat for Humanity Meaning of Home contest is open to students in Grades 5 to 6. (Screenshot/Habitat for Humanity video)
Habitat for Humanity launches national writing contest

Entries accepted from students in Grades 4 to 6 until Feb. 19

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

Most Read