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

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Most Read