U of C pays respects to the 14 women who lost their lives at Ecole Polytechnique

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On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lepine fatally shot 14 young women who were engineering students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. He singled out his victims simply because of their gender and his belief that they had prevented him from succeeding in life. 

Twenty-eight years later, those women whose lives were so mercilessly cut short were remembered across the country, in ceremonies that were both sombre and defiant. 

At the University of Calgary, approximately 200 students, staff and faculty members participated in a local ceremony that included lit candles, soft music and a video screen displaying the names of the 14 lives lost, women mostly in their early twenties.

U of C president Elizabeth Cannon, who was studying for her PhD in 1989 at the school she now leads today, recalled the shock she first felt upon hearing of the senseless murders, followed by her conviction to help others.

“To see 14 women being killed for studying a profession that I held so dear, that was a huge wakeup call for me,” said Cannon. 

She pointed out several initiatives the school has taken in the past few years to achieve that aim, including extensive community consultations and a sexual violence policy.

“Building a caring community is absolutely essential to the success of our university,” said Cannon. “I am optimistic — we have made strong progress, but there is a great deal of work ahead.” 

Carla Bertsch, the U of C’s new sexual violence support advocate, talked about how gender-based violence impacts everyone in a community, not just the victims and those close to them.

“We cannot solve the issue alone or apart,” said Bertsch. “We must come together as a united front, understanding that the elimination of violence against women benefits all of us. We will suffer and heal as a community.”

While those in attendance were mostly female, many of the males present wore white ribbons, part of a campaign that began in Canada in 1991 and has spread to 40 countries around the world.

The white ribbon is a symbol of their commitment to be a part of the solution, promoting gender equity, healthy relationships and a new version of masculinity.

After her speech, Bertsch showed a video of Natalie Provost, one of the 13 who were wounded by Lepine but survived. Provost talked about her belief before the massacre that she was “in a country of possibilities … a country that opens doors.”

She speaks out for her classmates who died and for all those who have suffered from gender-based violence. “I learned the power of sharing.”

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