It is nearly 20 years to the day that a man with a legally acquired rifle entered our school and shot 23 people, including me, Nathalie Provost. Several of our close friends were among the 14 young women who died on Dec. 6, 1989 at l’École Polytechnique. Our crime? We were women and we wanted to become engineers. And an angry man was able to easily get access to a lethal weapon.
Twenty years after that fateful day, we the survivors and former students would ask that you reflect on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. The murders sparked renewed interest and commitment to promoting women in engineering and technology, to ending violence against women and to strengthening gun laws. In each case, we have made progress but there is much left to do.
First, following the Montreal massacre the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers issued its groundbreaking report “More than Just Numbers” which documented the barriers to young women entering the engineering profession and the chilly climate facing women in engineering in many universities. This sparked a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging women and through the 1990’s the numbers steadily climbed. However since 2001, the trend has reversed and the percentage of women enrolling in engineering programs has declined. And while considerable progress has been made with many women breaking through the glass ceiling and many engineering associations addressing harassment and discrimination head one, recent research has suggested that women in technology continue to face barriers and in some companies the chilly climate persists. We would ask you to recommit to addressing these barriers and ensuring all girls have equal opportunities to pursue this great profession.
Second, the tragedy focused national attention on the problems of violence against women and the range of crimes where women are victimized because they are women. December 6th is a national day of morning for women killed by gender violence. Again, while progress has been made in awareness of this problem and in support for women who are victims of violence, the problem persists. It remains true that 85 per cent of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners, the people they should be able to most trust and depend on. We would ask that you renew your commitment to ending violence against women and to addressing the root causes of this global scourge.
Finally, the terrible events of December 6th awakened Canadians to the gaps in our gun laws. The students of Polytechnique, the families of the victims, police, health care professionals, labour organizations, teachers and others banded together in the Coalition for Gun Control. Suzanne Laplante Edward, whose daughter Ann Marie died that day called the 1995 legislation, “A monument to the memory of the victims of the Polytechnique tragedy.” The legislation has proven its effectiveness. It is used thousands of times every day by police across the country. Firearm deaths have declined substantially, and murders of women with guns have plummeted.
Yet just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Montreal massacre, the Conservative government, with the help of a number of Liberals and NDP Members of Parliament, passed legislation to eliminate the requirement to register rifles and shotguns — including the Ruger Mini 14, the gun used on that terrible day in 1989. How could this happen? Because the gun lobby is highly motivated and active in every electoral riding while the supporters of gun control do little or nothing. We would therefore ask that you take action, that you call your Member of Parliament and demand they stand up for gun control. Lives depend on it.
Indeed, we must all work together to make Canada a safer and more open society.
All three authors graduated from l’École Polytechnique in 1990. On December 6th 1989, Nathalie Provost was injured and from her hospital bed encouraged girls to become engineers.
Alain Perreault was president of the Polytechnique Student Association and later presented the student’s 560 000-signature gun control petition to Justice Minister Kim Campbell.
Heidi Rathjen devoted the next six years of her life to fighting for gun control until the law’s adoption in December of 1995.