On Wednesday, Dec. 6, 1989, a man walked into a mechanical engineering class at École Polytechnique de Montréal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle. Once he had told the men to leave the room he opened fire on the women, shouting, “You are all feminists.” Fourteen women died that day; ten more, as well as four men, were injured.
Thirty-three years later, Kingstonians will once again mark the date of what has been called the “Montreal Massacre.” On Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, at 5 p.m., the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women will be recognized with a candlelight vigil and rose laying ceremony in Market Square, honouring the Polytechnique victims and victims of femicide across Canada and locally.
Leigh Martins, Training, Education and Volunteer Coordinator for Kingston Interval House (KIH), said the vigil is part of 16 days of activism to raise awareness and end gender-based violence, occurring from November 25 until December 10, sponsored by KIH and Sexual Assault Centre Kingston.
“On November 25, we raised the Wrapped In Courage flag at City Hall,” Martins said, adding that City Hall is also being lit up purple for the sixteen days to raise awareness about gender-based violence.
“I know some people are saying, ‘Why?’ it was 33 years ago,’” Martins acknowledged, but “We still are commemorating the 14 women who were killed because it was such a violent act against women… The women were singled out because they were women. The men were allowed to leave, and they were killed because they were women. The reason we still want to commemorate this is that it’s still happening.”
She pointed out that in Ontario alone, from November 25, 2021 to November 25, 2022, there have been 52 femicides. “Not across Canada,” she emphasized, “in Ontario. Women are still being killed because they’re women. Violence against women is still an epidemic. It’s happening across Canada. It’s happening around the world. So we need to commemorate those women that were lost in Montreal, and we need to talk about what’s happening to women here.”
“Tomorrow night, we’re going to be having a candlelight vigil, as well as the rose ceremony, and we’re going to say the names of the 14 women from Montrea,l as well as local women,” Martins remarked, noting that in the 33 years since the massacre, 25 women, “that we know of,” were killed locally in gender-based violence.
“That’s why it’s still so important: because it’s still happening. If we think about what’s happening around the world for women in Iran, in Afghanistan, what they’re going through right now, it’s so important that we talk about gender-based violence.”
This is the first in-person event held to commemorate December 6 since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and Martins is excited to have people join the group. “We’re going to be near the big Christmas tree [in Springer Market Square] because I think that’s the easiest way to find us. If people want to come, it’s important to realize there’s likely going to be people in the audience that have lost a loved one, or who maybe are currently experiencing gender-based violence. It’s important for us to support those people.”
The ceremony will be brief, with the understanding that the weather this time of year might not be conducive to a longer event. “We are going to speak briefly. We want to acknowledge those women and lay roses for [them]. There’ll be a candlelight vigil, and we’re going to have The Caledonias from Queen’s University singing,” Martins added, noting that the all-women a capella group’s performance will be “just chilling” to listen to.
Afterwards, she said, there will be light refreshments and a time to “stick around to talk about what we’re trying to do to end gender-based violence.” Also, “Our indigenous counsellor from KIH will be there if anybody wants to smudge… I think it’ll be a really nice event.”
The 14 women who lost their lives to anti-feminist violence on December 6, 1989 were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, and Annie Turcotte.
Since that time, according to Martins, locally we have lost Danielle Duchesneau, Maurean Catherine MacDonnell, Jeanine Perry, Patty Ann Killingbeck, Robin Didemus, Maureen Nicholson, Lindsey May Dibert, Rona Amir Mohammed, Lindsay Wilson, Kaitlan Babcock, Sahar Shafia, Zainab Shafia, Geeti Shafia, Jutta Weber, Tracy Hannah, Whitney Hannah, Dawn Larson, Elizabeth Nugent, Nicole Guimond, Cara Cochrane, Gail Doreen White, Glenda Spetz, Debbie Fardella, Krista Quesnelle, and Florence Matilda O’Ray to femicide.
A rose will also be laid to honour the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in Canada, as well as for the brave women in Iran fighting with their lives to protect their rights.