A candlelight vigil was held Thursday to remember the 14 young women who were gunned down at l’École Polytechnique de Montreal almost three decades ago.
The women — 12 of them engineering students — were murdered by 25-year-old Marc Lépine, who had tried and failed to earn a place in the same school.
He blamed feminists for ruining his life.
Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of what became known as the Montreal Massacre, which shocked the nation on the afternoon of Dec. 6, 1989.
Holly Campbell, organizer of an advocacy group known as Because Wilno, called on the 300 people who gathered Thursday at Ottawa’s Women’s Monument to commit to working toward ensuring that next year’s anniversary is marked by progress on the issue of violence against women.
“It is up to all of us to do the work that must be done so that next year when we gather here — 30 years from the Polytechnique tragedy — we can also report on progress,” Campbell said.
Because Wilno was founded in the aftermath of the murder of three Ottawa Valley women by Basil Borutski, who was sentenced last year to life in prison for the one-day killing spree.
Campbell noted that a recent UN report on gender-based violence found that “the sad reality is that worldwide, the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.”
That report, by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said that 58 per cent of the 87,000 women killed last year died at the hands of male partners or family members.
It means, Campbell said, that 137 women around the world are killed by family members every single day.
“The underlying causes have been studied for decades,” he said, “but women in our communities continue to be killed. Twenty-nine years of vigils and poems and laying flowers and lighting candles has not stopped the killing. We need to do something different.”
She called on the crowd to “demand courageous leadership now:” demand that city council deliver more affordable housing; demand that Queen’s Park better fund frontline services for sexual assault centres; and demand that the federal government address income inequality.
Michelle Lemieux, a human rights advocate and member of the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre, told those who gathered Thursday night that gender-based violence crosses every socio-economic and cultural barrier. “Gender-based violence occurs every day in every city and every village across the world,” she said.
The vigil, organized by the Women’s Event Network of Ottawa, featured poetry, songs, candlelight and flowers. The names of the 14 victims of the Montreal Massacre were read out, and each of their lives described.
The vigil also honoured those killed in gender-based violence in National Capital Region this year, including:
- Elizabeth Salm, 59, a volunteer for the First Church of Christ, scientist, who was killed May 24 in a church reading room. Salm was remembered for her kindness, gentleness and love for her family.
- Safaa Marina, 53, died on Feb. 4, murdered by her husband at their Ottawa home. Marina came to Canada from Syria three decades ago and was remembered as a loving mother to three sons.
- Claire Hébert, 58, of Gatineau, was killed at her home on Jan. 30. She was remembered as a loving mother of two and a grandmother.
- Maria Desousa, 81, died at home on Feb. 10. She was remembered as a loving mother of three children, a grandmother of five and a great-grandmother of two.
- Emilie Maheu, 26, was found dead on Oct. 13 in a field in Glengarry. Maheu was remembered as the mother of her much-loved two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
The vigil was one of dozens of similar events held across the country as part of the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
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