TORONTO — It’s been 31 years since a man entered Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal with a gun in his hand, seeking specifically to kill women.
Fourteen women were murdered in the Montreal massacre, and fourteen women and men were injured. The horrific anti-feminist attack left countless devastated families and scarred survivors.
Nathalie Provost was one of those survivors. She was shot four times in the 1989 massacre, and has been working to honour the victims, speak up about the need for gun control, and decry violence against women ever since.
Across the country, where normally memorials and gatherings would be held in person, survivors and loved ones of the victims are having to convene virtually — looking for ways to still remember those who were lost decades ago, even in a pandemic.
Provost told CTV News Channel that while it’s harder to gather during a pandemic, “we keep the memory alive, even [with] what’s happening.”
She mentioned that her brother died 31 years ago as well, in April of 1989, and that while she can feel peaceful on the anniversary of her brother’s death, she and other survivors and family members of those who died in the Montreal massacre can’t feel that way on Dec. 6.
“I think because of what happened, of what it is, we are not [feeling at peace],” she said. “And I’m a bit sad and tired about that.”
Dec. 6 is now the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. To mark the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement saying, “the safety of women must be the foundation of any society.
“Gender-based violence has no place in our communities or our country, and the Government of Canada is continuing to implement a national action plan to address it,” Trudeau wrote. “This plan must ensure that survivors, their families, and all those who face gender-based violence have reliable and timely access to protection, support services, and justice. The government also continues to collaborate closely with its partners to develop a national action plan to address the national tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and LGBTQ people.”
He added that they had banned “over 1,500 models and variants of assault-style firearms and some of their components, including the weapon used at the École Polytechnique,” and that as a response to COVID-19, the government had invested over $100 million “in emergency funding to help organizations that provide support and services to people experiencing gender-based violence.”
“I think what he is proposing now is really important,” Provost said. “But I’m a bit exhausted, because he always make big promises, big good-will promises, but when it comes to action, he just [does a] few, short steps.”
Violence against women is still an ongoing problem in Canada and around the world. Outside of individual mass murder events, the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women continues, with around 4,000 or more Indigenous women murdered or missing in Canada in the last 30 years.
Meanwhile, the trial for Alek Minassian, the man behind the 2018 van attack in Toronto, is unfolding. Eight women and two men died in the attack, which was allegedly inspired by incel ideology — a term for misogynistic men who blame their inability to find romantic or sexual success on women as a whole.
Last April, one of the most devastating mass murders in Canadian history started with domestic violence — the gunmen behind the Nova Scotia massacre killed 22 people only after he had assaulted his female partner and she had escaped.
“We knew something like Nova Scotia might happen, and it happened, and it’s awful,” Provost said.
On May 1, Trudeau announced the ban of more than 1,500 models of assault-style weapons.
“I’m very, very happy that there was something on May 1st,” Provost said, but added that she still feels it was a half measure. “[Trudeau] begin[s] a job, he proposes something, but it’s not finished. To be at peace, things need to be finished.”
She added that while measures around “red flags” exist in our laws and regulations, they are rarely enforced, and warning signs for potentially dangerous people can be missed.
In the case of Nova Scotia, a neighbour had reported the gunman’s history of domestic violence and his collection of weapons to the police years before the shooting occurred.
“People in Nova Scotia would have benefitted if those red flag system[s] would have been efficient and they are not,” Provost said. “The laws, the regulations exist, but they are not used. So we have to do something as a society.
“And gun control is part of [any] systems regarding violence against women.”