École Polytechnique massacre

École Polytechnique massacre
Mtl dec6 plaque.jpg
Plaque at École Polytechnique commemorating victims of the massacre
LocationMontreal, Quebec, Canada
DateDecember 6, 1989; 29 years ago (1989-12-06)
5:10–5:30 p.m.
TargetFemale students at École Polytechnique de Montréal
Attack type
School shooting, mass murder, murder-suicide, hate crime
Weapons
Deaths15   (14 victims + 1 perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
14
PerpetratorMarc Lépine
MotiveAntifeminism

The École Polytechnique massacre, also known as the Montreal massacre, was a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, that occurred on December 6, 1989. Fourteen young women were murdered and a further ten women and four men were injured by Marc Lépine. He entered a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. After claiming that he was "fighting feminism" and calling the women "a bunch of feminists," he shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, targeting women for just under 20 minutes before turning the gun on himself. His suicide note claimed political motives and blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note included a list of 19 Quebec women whom Lépine considered to be feminists and apparently wished to kill. It is the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.

Since the attack, Canadians have debated various interpretations of the events, their significance, and Lépine's motives. Many feminist groups and government officials characterize the massacre as an anti-feminist attack that is representative of wider societal violence against women. Consequently, the anniversary of the massacre has been commemorated as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Other interpretations emphasize Lépine's abuse as a child or suggest that the massacre was simply the isolated act of a madman, unrelated to larger social issues. Still other commentators have blamed violence in the media and increasing poverty, isolation, and alienation in society, particularly in immigrant communities.

The incident led to more stringent gun control laws in Canada, including passage of the Firearms Act, 1995. It also introduced changes in the tactical response of police to shootings, changes which were later credited with minimizing casualties at the 2006 Dawson College shootings.

Massacre

Sometime after 4 p.m. on December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine arrived at the building housing the École Polytechnique, an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife.[1] He had purchased a rifle on November 21, 1989, in a Checkmate Sports store in Montreal, telling the clerk that he was going to use it to hunt small game.[2] Lépine was familiar with the layout of the building since he had been in and around the École Polytechnique at least seven times in the weeks leading up to the event.[1]

oblique view of a long, modern building about 6 storeys high, with many windows and large main entrance
Exterior of École Polytechnique de Montréal

Lépine sat for a time in the office of the registrar on the second floor. He was seen rummaging through a plastic bag and did not speak to anyone, even when a staff member asked if she could help him. He left the office and was subsequently seen in other parts of the building before entering a second-floor mechanical engineering class of about sixty students at about 5:10 p.m.[1] After approaching the student giving a presentation, he asked everyone to stop everything and ordered the women and men to opposite sides of the classroom. No one moved at first, believing it to be a joke until he fired a shot into the ceiling.[3]

Lépine then separated the nine women from the approximately fifty men and ordered the men to leave.[4] He asked the remaining women whether they knew why they were there, and when one student replied "no," he answered: "I am fighting feminism." One of the students, Nathalie Provost, said, "Look, we are just women studying engineering, not necessarily feminists ready to march on the streets to shout we are against men, just students intent on leading a normal life." Lépine responded, "You're women, you're going to be engineers. You're all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists." He then opened fire on the students from left to right, killing six, and wounding three others, including Provost.[1][5] Before leaving the room, he wrote the word shit twice on a student project.[4]

Lépine continued into the second-floor corridor and wounded three students before entering another room where he twice attempted to shoot a female student. When his weapon failed to fire, he entered the emergency staircase where he was seen reloading his gun. He returned to the room he had just left, but the students had locked the door; Lépine failed to unlock it with three shots fired into the door. Moving along the corridor, he shot at others, wounding one, before moving towards the financial services office where he shot and killed a woman through the window of the door she had just locked.[1]

view of a classroom from the rear, with blackboard and three desks and tables at the front of the class, and five rows of long curved student desks with blue chairs attached.
The third floor classroom in the École Polytechnique in which the attack ended

He next went down to the first-floor cafeteria, in which about a hundred people were gathered. The crowd scattered after he shot a woman standing near the kitchens and wounded another student. Entering an unlocked storage area at the end of the cafeteria, Lépine shot and killed two more women hiding there. He told a male and female student to come out from under a table; they complied and were not shot.[1]

Lépine then walked up an escalator to the third floor where he shot and wounded one female and two male students in the corridor. He entered another classroom and told the three students giving a presentation to "get out," shooting and wounding Maryse Leclair, who was standing on the low platform at the front of the classroom. He fired on students in the front row and then killed two women who were trying to escape the room, while other students dove under their desks. Lépine moved towards some of the female students, wounding three of them and killing another. He changed the magazine in his weapon and moved to the front of the class, shooting in all directions. At this point, the wounded Leclair asked for help; Lépine unsheathed his hunting knife and stabbed her three times, killing her. He took off his cap, wrapped his coat around his rifle, exclaimed, "Ah shit," and then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, twenty minutes after having begun his attack.[6] About sixty unfired cartridges remained in the boxes he carried with him. He had killed fourteen women in total (twelve engineering students, one nursing student and one employee of the university) and injured fourteen others, fourteen women and four men.[1][6]

After briefing reporters outside, Montreal Police director of public relations Pierre Leclair entered the building and found his daughter Maryse's stabbed body.[7][8]

The Quebec and Montreal governments declared three days of mourning.[7] A joint funeral for nine of the women was held at Notre-Dame Basilica on December 11, 1989, and was attended by Governor General Jeanne Sauvé, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, and Montreal mayor Jean Doré, along with thousands of other mourners.[8]

Suicide letter

Marc Lépine's inside jacket pocket contained a suicide letter and two letters to friends, all dated the day of the massacre.[1] Some details from the suicide letter were revealed by the police two days after the event,[9][10] but the full text was not disclosed. The media brought an unsuccessful access to information case to compel the police to release the suicide letter.[11] A year after the attacks, Lépine's three-page statement was leaked to journalist and feminist Francine Pelletier. It contained a list of nineteen Quebec women whom Lépine apparently wished to kill because he considered them feminists.[5][12] The list included Pelletier herself, as well as a union leader, a politician, a TV personality, and six police officers who had come to Lépine's attention as they were on the same volleyball team.[13] The letter (without the list of women) was subsequently published in the newspaper La Presse, where Pelletier was a columnist.[14] Lépine wrote that he considered himself rational and that he blamed feminists for ruining his life. He outlined his reasons for the attack including his anger towards feminists for seeking social changes that "retain the advantages of being women [...] while trying to grab those of the men."[15] He also mentioned Denis Lortie, a Canadian Armed Forces corporal who killed three government employees and wounded thirteen others in an armed attack on the National Assembly of Quebec on May 7, 1984.[16] The text of the original letter in French is available, as well as an English translation.

Victims

In a park, 14 coffin-like benches of pink stone are set in a circle. A higher slanted pink panel is visible in the foreground
Marker of Change, memorial consisting of 14 coffin-like benches in Vancouver by artist Beth Alber
  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), mechanical engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique's finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

In addition, suicides were later reported among students who had been present at the time of the massacre. At least two students left notes confirming that they committed suicide due to distress caused by the massacre.[17]

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