Today marks the 21st anniversary of the Montreal Massacre where 25-year old Marc Lepine, a self-proclaimed “feminist fighter”, unleashed a semi-automatic rifle upon the female engineering students at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. Overall, he killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men in just under twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself.
I was in my third year of a Biology undergrad at UBC at the time, probably living on coffee and cramming frantically for final exams. I remember the incomprehensible shock I felt. It was unbelievable to me that someone wanted to harm another just because they were a woman. Universities are places where lofty ideals are cultivated, not witnesses to mass murder. My shock then turned to worry. I remember the worry I felt when taking the bus home alone in the evening. I remember how my pulse would quicken when a man would pass by me on the sidewalk, my fingers clenched tightly around my keys, just in case I needed to poke his eyes out with my Volkswagen key.
But mostly I remember my sadness. That promising lives on the brink of their futures could be extinguished by hate in a country like Canada, a “true North, strong and free.”
I have a friend who lives alone in a tony part of Toronto. When I went to visit her two months back, we went back to her apartment to change before heading out for the evening. We were talking, laughing and walking down the dark hallway to her place, when a man abruptly opened his door (unfortunately, across the hall and just down from hers) to glare at us as we walked past. We shushed ourselves, and didn’t think any more of it, quickly distracted by catching up on stuff. Since then, she has come home alone to find her neighbour in the hall, looking menacingly at her, following her down the hall, intimidating her by not saying a word. She has now installed intruder alarms at her place and is looking to move. She is not free. And I worry.
We raise our daughters to be strong and independent, but most of us can’t block a right hook to the face. The media is helping, getting the message out there. The photos of what Chris Brown did to Rihanna make us flinch, as they should. But the list seems to be growing, or at least, not shrinking enough. Add to the list, Yeardley Love, the University of Virginia lacrosse star, who was violently shaken to death by her ex-boyfriend. Add the Pickton murders and the Highway of Tears. And the over half a million sexual assaults on women per year (source: WAVAW 2004 statistics). It’s utterly shameful that people hurt people, we tell that to our kids, when did they stop listening?
I have 3 beautiful sons, full of vim, vigour and untapped potential. Their father and I promise to honour all women by raising men who love and respect women, and all people for that matter. They will choose brains over brawn, solving issues with empathy and kindness, for themselves and for all mankind.
This is my promise.