December 6th marks the 25th anniversary of the École polytechnique shooting also known as the ‘Montreal Massacre’ during which 25-year old Marc Lépine entered the school premises armed with a semi-automatic Sturm Ruger .223 he had obtained legally, and proceeded to shoot 27 people; 14 women died and 10 women and 4 men were injured. Lépine took his own life after the rampage.
The gunman had separated the men from the women and proclaimed his hatred for Feminists before proceeding to open fire on the classroom of female engineering students.
That same year, Canadians rallied to demand stricter gun control measures and managed to redact a petition that collected 560,000 signatures while proposing a list of measures to strengthen gun control. Considering that Internet and other electronic means of communication were not as developed at the time, it was an incredible achievement.
In 1991 and 1995, gun control measures were strengthened in Canada, but sadly, in 2012, a federal legislation was passed to relax some of these restrictions.
This weekend, some Memorial Vigils and Ceremonies are organized across Canada to mark the Day of Remembrance & Action on Violence against Women. These events serve to remember the victims of École polytechnique as well as of any gender-based violence.
Marc Lépine was born Gamil Rodrigue Liass Gharbi on October 26th, 1964, in Montréal, Canada. His mother was French Canadian and his father from Algeria. His mother Monique Lépine was a former Catholic nun who had rejected organized religion because of her lingering doubts about the credibility of these institutions. From the very beginning, her husband had been very abusive and a misogynist.
Marc and his younger sister had to witness the constant abuse and one day, when he beat Marc so violently that he needed an ear operation to repair the injury, their mother decided it was time to call it quits. For a long time afterwards, he would hide in the closet if a man would show up at their house.
As a single parent with two children and no financial or emotional support, Monique went to work as a nurse while pursuing higher education. Marc and his sister had to live with paid babysitters and see their mother only on weekends because her work schedule did not allow her to be a full time mom. Gharbi soon became an absentee father and the epitome of a dead beat dad.
Left to his own devices, Marc became shy and withdrawn and had a hard time connecting with his peers, especially members of the opposite sex. At 14, he changed his name to Lépine to stop being taunted at school where some of his schoolmates called him an Arab. He managed to have one best friend and occupied a lot of his time with war movies and electronics, while his sister became more extrovert and deeply disturbed. She often went off on her brother who was an easy mark.
Always described as good student during his youth, he started to struggle in his teens and failed at most of his endeavors. He was turned down by the Canadian Forces who had judged him inept to serve, and by École Polytechnique because he was missing two credits. As he accumulated failures and his social life became more and more dismal, Marc started showing signs of a personality disorder and even mental illness.
He recounted how he had felt no joy for years and started blaming women for taking a bigger place in society. His father’s rhetoric had finally sunk in and his inability to communicate with girls his age made him angry and resentful.
As his mental health deteriorated, Marc started planning his revenge on the opposite sex and on the school that turned him down. He purchased a mini-14 rifle with a hunting knife at a gun store and told the owner that he would hunt ‘’small game.’’
He spent two months planning his attack and wrote a suicide letter that was a rambling deluded speech about his inaptitude and his disdain for women occupying positions traditionally reserved for men.
Before executing them, Lépine yelled at the female students that they were all a bunch of feminists and that he hated them. Even if one student protested and said she was not, his rampage was not open for debate.
As he moved through the corridors, the cafeteria and classrooms, he targeted women but four men were shot in the crossfire and injured; it seems that the intended victims were definitely the female engineering students.
Lépine’s life of quiet desperation had ended with a bang.
In his pockets, the police found a letter that said in part “Nearly died today,” “The lack of time (because I started too late) has allowed these radical feminists to survive.”
The police refused to go public with the killer’s suicide note, arguing at a press conference that it might inspire copycat killings. A French reporter called Francine Pelletier who is a well-known feminist activist and newspaper columnist, decided that it was worth publishing the content of the note that included her name on a list of women who had to be executed. She felt the cops were trying to downplay Lépine’s true motives. She claimed at the time that a copy of the letter was sent to her anonymously.
“Would you note that if I commit suicide today it is not for economic reasons … but for political reasons,” it read. “Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker … I have decided to put an end to those viragos.”
Because I decided to send Ad Patres the feminists who have always ruined my life,” he wrote. “For seven years my life has brought me no joy, and being utterly weary of the world, I have decided to stop those shrews dead in their tracks… The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women…while trying to grab those of men… They are so opportunistic that they neglect to profit from the knowledge accumulated by men throughout the ages. They always try to misrepresent them every time they can.”
“The other day I heard they were honoring the Canadian men and women who fought at the front during the world wars,” he wrote. “How can you explain then that the women were not authorized to go to the front??? Are we going to hear about Caesar’s female legions and female galley slaves, who, of course, will occupy 50 percent of total forces in history, despite the fact that they never existed. A real Casus Belli.”
He ended by quoting Caesar, “Alea Jacta Est” meaning “the die is cast.”
He had added an “Annex,” of the names of 19 “radical feminists” from police women to politicians, but he was not going to take the time to execute them all. In the end, in an act of mass murder, he had decided to make one clear statement, a symbolic attack on women everywhere.
It was a long, delusional and rambling note that unequivocally showed Lépine’s troubled state of mind.
Pelletier concluded that Lépine’s actions were highly political and believed he knew exactly what he was doing that day. “I always felt those women died in my name. Some of them probably weren’t even feminist,” she said “they just had the nerve to believe they were peers, not subordinates of their male classmates.’’
Mental evaluation & Feminism
After the shootings, psychologists proclaimed that Lépine was a madman and that the women just happened to be in the way, as opposed to being specifically targeted. A psychiatrist at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Quebec was quoted in La Presse as saying that Lépine was “as innocent as his victims, and himself a victim of an increasingly merciless society”.
The massacre spurred many campaigns to end male violence and some international solidarity was felt. According to Pelletier, the effect on the women’s movement in Canada was profound.
“I was one hell of a disillusioned little feminist on 6 December 1989. It had all been too easy,” she said. “What we realized after the massacre was that there had been a quiet and growing resentment from many men towards feminists, and for us, a huge price to pay for all that we had achieved.”
The late feminist writer Andrea Dworkin even said about this event: “It is incumbent upon each of us to be the woman that Marc Lépine wanted to kill. We must live with this honor, this courage. We must drive out fear. We must hold on. We must create. We must resist.”
- Geneviève Bergeron
- Hélène Colgan
- Nathalie Croteau
- Barbara Daigneault
- Anne-Marie Edwards
- Maud Haviernick
- Barbara Maria Klueznik Widjewicz
- Maryse Laganière
- Maryse Leclerc
- Anne-Marie Lemay
- Sonya Pelletier
- Michèle Richard
- Annie Saint-Arneault
- Annie Turcotte
The injured victims recovered, but not without emotional and physical residues.
During the fall of 1990, Sarto Blais, a student who was in the room during the shooting, killed himself because he could not live with the fact that he stood by without trying to stop Lépine. The following June, his parents committed suicide because they could not live with the sorrow. The whole family was decimated as a result of the massacre. And even if not all the victims went to that extreme, they all had to live with their own brand of misery.
And this includes Lépine’s mother. Her daughter died of an overdose seven years after this tragedy and she had to rely on her spirituality to find the strength to survive the loss of her two children.
It took her 17 years to be able to talk about the tragedy that destroyed her family as well as her life. As a single parent, her universe crumbled when she lost her two children. She felt like dying herself, but in 2001, she made the decision to live on to help people in mourning or contemplating suicide.
Her work as an oncology nurse during 40 years allowed her to understand the mourning process. She understood how indelible emotional scars can be and in 2008, she wrote a book titled Aftermath to transcend this tragedy and to share her story. The book was received with great compassion by most of the public. She speaks frequently now in schools, churches and prisons.
Nature versus nurture
Since 1989, there has been a lot of change in our understanding of early childhood development. We now comprehend the concept of adverse childhood experiences. In other words, if a child like Marc Lépine lived a lot of trauma and stress because of his extremely violent father, he is bound to have had a great level of dysfunction in his life. According to Monique Lépine, Marc’s childhood was marred by adverse experiences because of the violence perpetrated by his abusive father. Her daughter was equally damaged but ended up destroying herself without taking other victims.
Not to take away from the gravity of what happened, the history of Marc Lépine does not excuse his actions, but can explain where they stemmed from. His sensitive nature probably rendered him unable to sustain the constant attacks he suffered at home and subsequently, his constant failures at life.
Even if I agree with the anti-violence against women Memorials, I strongly believe that the students of École polytechnique were not murdered for being feminists, but because Lépine’s disturbed mind hooked up on this notion. In my opinion, the mental experts were right to say that it simply was a horrible school shooting. He was an angry and disturbed young man who fell through the cracks. Feminism was alive and well at the time and never shot down by Lépine who was a lone desperate soul. This type of massacre is about the assailant’s shortcomings and not at all about his victims.
Lépine was a victim so if we have to blame someone or something for this tragedy, I would pin it on selling guns freely to disturbed individuals and on mental illness not being recognized and treated on time, instead of invoking Feminism which was simply an excuse to express his suffering and frustrations probably stemming from his relationship with his mother and sister who chose their own interests over his, time and time again. But if this event can keep inspiring women to be even more productive and on a more equal footing, it is as good of a legacy as any.
I will be the first one to light a candle for the ladies of École polytechnique on December 6th, but I will also light one for Lépine and for all the survivors of this tragedy.