The tragedy at École Polytechnique was a testing time for the engineering community in Canada. This article aims to look back at those times and understand how hard it was on the engineering community. It also aims to encourage further change because we are not where an ideal engineering community would be.
By Jonathan Lee (General Manager), December 1989
…of Geneviéve Bergeron, Hélêne Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Maria Klucznik, Maryse Laganicfre, Maryse Leclair, AnneœMarie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michelle Richard, Annie Saint-Arnault and Annie Turcotte.
Canada has recently lost fourteen bright young minds in a terrible tragedy. Marc Lapine struck out in a final fit of rage against the women who he claimed ‘ruined his life’. Thirteen engineering students and one university employee were killed on December 6, 1989 at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. The women who died were innocent of any crime.
They were willing to go against society’s stereotypes and enter a male dominated field.
This atrocity is difficult to both accept and understand owing to its senseless nature. Who do we blame? Lapine himself? The government for their apparently lenient gun control laws? Society for not foreseeing this tragedy? No single component can be condemned for this man’s terrible act.
We think of all the good which these future engineers were capable of doing. These students represented ‘leading edge’ thinkers. They were willing to go against society’s stereotypes and enter a male dominated field.
I am sure we all felt some sense of loss when we heard the news of this catastrophe. What was the purpose? What sense can be made of this? How can we rationalize this tragic occurrence? These questions are difficult to answer. We must try to accept what has happened and grieve for our loss in our own way. From public cries of injustice to quiet personal reflection, we have all grieved; we will all grieve still. Those of us that remain will carry them with us forever. Not on our sleeves but in our own minds and in our own hearts. Their memory will not affect everything we do but we will recall them in the stiller moments of our everyday lives.
In their memory, and in our own loss, we humbly dedicate this edition of Project Magazine. Even by those of us who never knew them, and would have never known them, they will be missed.
A YEAR LATER…
By Kerry Yackoboski, December 1990
On December 6, 1989, tragedy struck at the University of Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. Fourteen innocent women were the victims of an assassin in the ultimate expression of violent sexism that injured twelve others and horrified engineering students across this nation. After a year of denial, and pretending that any link between this tragedy and engineering was tenuous. Canadians are still struggling with the most brutal act of violence against women in this country’s history.
Many of us have not taken the time to address the effects of this tragedy, either personally or publicly. For us to take our place in a healthy and progressive profession, this should be done, but provincial engineering associations and our faculties of engineering are seemingly ill-disposed to deal with a matter such as this. This is, after all, a very personal issue that each one of us has to consider for his or her own self.
What can be done to prevent this from symbolically reinforcing the public perception that engineering is not a profession for women?
What can be done to prevent this from symbolically reinforcing the public perception that engineering is not a profession for women? What have we learned from Montreal, and what can we do to prevent it from happening again?
As Samuel Beckett wrote in Waiting For Godot, “Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better.”
The brutal murder of these students was not only an assault on women but also a threat to our public image, our reputation, and our self-respect as future professionals. We at the University of Manitoba believe that this is an opportunity for us to make a difference. Plans are already underway to attempt to raise the awareness of our community to this matter by setting aside a Day of Remembrance. Engineering professors and students will be supplied with a single white flower to wear on their lapel. As we also want other students to pause and reflect on this day, this will become an inter-faculty event. By providing a flower for prominent support staff and campus leaders this event can be well-publicized both on and off-campus and therefore mean much more. The student union and local media are being asked to help defray the cost of the symbolic flowers and of the publicity.
Unfortunately, since December 6 will fall within our examination period, when students traditionally go home to study, it was decided to mark the day a week earlier on November 29. This is less than ideal, but it was felt that the efforts would fail if an event was scheduled on a day when most students will be studying at home, and when any students who are on campus are there solely to write their examinations. Instead, the event will be held when students will have a thoughtful disposition and will not be overtaken by “exam crankiness”.
By our silence we have fostered a climate which does not actively discourage hostile acts and attitudes towards women.
What is the point? Our goal is to initiate a change in attitudes; the attitudes of students, professors, and the public. Attitudes are formed through education and background, and it’s a slow and difficult process to change them. Behaviour can change more quickly, and if the behaviour is altered, eventually the outlook must adapt. As noted Ontario engineer Patrick Quinn wrote, “… by our silence we have fostered a climate which does not actively discourage hostile acts and attitudes towards women.” It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them; now you are asked to live up to them in your daily life.