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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alisa Gusakova was one of two Grade 12 Chilliwack students who received a $5,000 Horatio Alger Canadian Scholarship earlier this year. Now, a fundraiser has been created for the teen after her mother was killed. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Fundraiser launched for daughter of Chilliwack woman killed

Money raised will help Chilliwack teen attend UFV to earn business degree

Chilliwack Search and Rescue volunteers say that a call on April 17 on Vedder Mountain was affected by bikers who rode through the rescue site, throwing rocks onto members and the patient. (Chilliwack Search and Rescue image)
Chilliwack Search and Rescue team, and patient, sprayed with rocks and dirt during rescue

Volunteer crew speaks out after riders on Vedder Mountain show no courtesy at accident scene

Agassiz Fire Department has been called to an ATV rollover on Harrison East Forest Service Road on Sunday, April 18, 2021. (Google Maps)
Agassiz Fire called out to ATV rollover incident on Harrison FSR

Morning call follows exceptionally busy Saturday as temperatures soar in Fraser Valley

A Chilliwack Search and Rescue truck heads down Vedder Road towards Cultus Lake to assist a dirtbiker with a broken leg. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Emergency crews, SAR busy with three separate outdoor recreation incidents in Chilliwack area

Calls in 1 afternoon include ATV collision, parachuter who fell from tree, dirtbiker with broken leg

Chilliwack’s historic Royal Hotel is offering COVID-style wedding packages for two weeks in June. (Facebook/ Royal Hotel Chilliwack)
Chilliwack hotel offers pop-up, COVID-style weddings for 2 weeks this June

‘Weddings can still happen, albeit in a different fashion,’ says Laura Reid of Royal Hotel

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

File photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
One man dead after shooting in Downtown Vancouver

This is Vancouver’s fifth homicide of the year

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of April 18

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Most Read