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Tributes to victims on 32nd anniversary of Montreal's Polytechnique mass shooting

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MONTREAL — People gathered silently in front of Montreal's École Polytechnique Monday to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of what's widely believed to be Canada's worst mass shooting specifically targeting women.

The shooting took place on Dec. 6, 1989, when a gunman separated men from women students inside the engineering school before opening fire and killing 14 women and injuring others.

On a wet, gloomy morning, representatives of the school and student associations laid white roses in front of a commemorative plaque honouring the 14 lost lives. Clementine Lesec and Gaël Reynal, representatives from one of Polytechnique's student unions, stood together, reflecting quietly on the tragedy as others placed wreaths.

Lesec, a 22-year-old master's student in biomedical engineering research, said that as a woman walking the school's corridors, her mind often wanders toward the victims. "I am not afraid of what could happen, but I am always thinking about them," Lesec said. "I am here. I am lucky and I must make the most out of it."

Sarah Dorner, a professor in the department of civil, geological and mining engineering at Polytechnique, said she vividly remembers the massacre.

"I was in high school when it happened, and I remember Nathalie Provost, a survivor who was shot four times, and I remember her words … Don't be afraid," said Dorner, who has taught at Polytechnique since 2007. "It became an inspiration for a lot of women of my generation."

Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade was among the small crowd, saying she was there primarily as an alumnus of Polytechnique.

"I don't have my spokesperson with me today, I just came with flowers like I do every year on Dec. 6, because it's very emotional," said Anglade, who graduated in 1996. "To think about their lives, what they could have been and you tell yourself that you have a duty to continue and to fight against violence toward women."

The women killed in 1989 were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.

A recent spate of femicides in Quebec — with an unofficial count putting the number at 18 since January — has renewed discussion of the issue, but it also has some advocates lamenting a lack of progress over gun control and in the fight to end violence against women.

MPs held two moments of silence in the House of Commons Monday to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women that was declared in 1991. The first was requested by Speaker Anthony Rota, at the end of members' statements, during which MPs from all parties addressed the issue of violence against women.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland later asked all women MPs to stand for a second moment of silence after she answered the day’s first query during question period on the subject. “Violence against women is just unacceptable,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement condemning the hatred of women that led to the 1989 killings.

"As we remember the victims of this hateful, cowardly act, we are also reminded that, for countless women, girls, and gender diverse people in Canada and around the world, violence is a daily reality," Trudeau said.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said the tragedy that befell the victims at Polytechnique "must never happen again."

"We must denounce unacceptable behaviour, teach our children and our loved ones to respect one another, and set an example," O'Toole said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement that violence against women has to be eliminated in all its forms. "Women and girls deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities," he said.

Fourteen beams of light representing the shooting victims will be projected into the sky Monday evening from Mount Royal, where Trudeau, Quebec Premier François Legault and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante are set to be present. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers are asking crowds not to gather.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2021.

— With files from Erika Ibrahim and Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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