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

Some of the folks behind Angel Flight East Kootenay: Todd Weselake is a director, partner and pilot while Brent Bidston is the president and lead pilot of the not-for-profit. Pictured here with their older plane, they hope to get an upgrade for thanks to RDEK funding. (Image courtesy of Angel Flight East Kootenay)
Angel Flight secures RDEK funding for next five years

$100,000 will go to the not-for-profit each year, with the funds to be used to acquire a larger plane

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Ryan Bavin of Bavin Glassworks in Invermere. Photo: Submitted
Call for entries for Columbia Basin Culture Tour

Deadline for registration for artists and venues is April 15

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

Michelle Thorne of Fernie Distillers with some Griz-themed cocktails available for Griz Days 2021. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Griz Days comes to town

While mostly virtual, there’s Griz-themed food and drink around town

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Most Read