Tuesday, December 6th 2016 marks the 27th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, where 14 female students of the École Polytechnique in Montreal were killed and another 10 women were injured by gunshot wounds. They were victims of a misogynistic attack by a student named Marc Lépine. Four male students were also injured.
Marc Lépine broke into the classes at the university, demanded that the male students leave the room and opened fire against the female students while spouting anti-woman propaganda. He later committed suicide. This tragedy shocked the country and gained notoriety around the world not only due to the brutal nature of the attack or the number of victims, but also due to the clearly sexist basis of the brutal massacre. Despite the media and the conservative sectors attempt to deny it, this was a clear anti-woman attack.
In 1991, the Canadian parliament proclaimed the day of the massacre the “ National Day of Remembrance and Action Against Violence Against Women.” Since then, on this date the women’s movements in Canada organize demonstrations to honor the memory of the victims and to fight violence against women.
Born in Montreal, the shooter Marc Lépine (originally named Gamil Rodrigue Liass Gharbi) was born to a family in which gender-based violence was common practice. In a letter written on the day of the attack, Lépine left no doubt about his motivation for the massacre, which was to “put an end” to the feminists, to whom he refers as “virago” ( “j’ai décidé de mettre des bâtons dans les roues à ces viragos.”). “Virago” is a pejorative term used to call women “aggressive” and “masculine”. In the letter, he details his frustrated attempt to join the Canadian military and how the application made him delay the execution of his plan, demonstrating that the attack was premeditated.
At the time of the massacre, there were many attempts to blame the shooting on the killer’s mental health, his familial environment and professional failure. All of this analysis ignored all possible feminist interpretation of systemic sexism, making the shooting sound like an isolated, exceptional case. According to Melissa Blais in her study about sexism and the massacre many considered Lépine a mentally ill, poor, sick man. This made it possible to neutralize the political debate, preventing the shooting from being seen as one more case of violence against women.
Recently there have been many notable cases of violence and hatred against women, like the emblematic case of Jyoti Pandey, the Indian student who was murdered after being gang-raped and beaten by 6 men, the case of the Brazilian teenage girl who was gang-raped by 30 men or even the most recent case an Argentine girl was raped and then brutally tortured and killed. These cases and so many others happen everyday around the world. Women suffer and die due to the sexism and misogyny that is so deeply ingrained in our society. At the same time, we have had some very important examples of women who stood up against oppression. In Brazil, thousands took the streets against rape culture; in Argentina, thousands took the streets and even organized work stoppages under the banner #NiUnaMenos. Without a doubt, the only way to fight sexist violence is the organization of the women’s movements together with all the oppressed and exploited sectors of society. Only a movement with thousands of women who organize at each school, university and workplace to take the streets can fight the sexist oppression intrinsic to capitalism.
In memory of the victims of the “Montreal Massacre”, in solidarity with the friends and family that suffered and in solidarity with all the victims of gender-based violence, we will keep fighting to end violence against women in Canada, the United States, India, Brazil, Argentina and around the world.