Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Marc Lepine kills 14 female engineering students at L'Ecole
Polytechnique in Montreal

 December 6, 1989, was a sad and tragic day in the history of Canadian higher education. That day, on a cold  late afternoon, a young man called Marc Lepine suddenly irrupted at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, armed with a semi-automatic rifle.  As soon as he entered into a classroom, he separated the women from the men, lined the women along the wall, and then killed them one by one. In addition to killing 14 female engineering students, he injured eight other women, and also four men who tried to stop him. Then, he killed himself. That horrible episode is remembered in history as the Montreal Massacre.

Marc Lepine was 25 years old, and he had a clear and disturbing idea in his mind when he entered into that classroom. For him, these young women who chose a non-traditional career deserved nothing less than death. From his notes, he seemed to be frustrated with the increasing presence of women in higher education. He wanted to reverse the clock of educational history by a hundred years, when women were largely excluded from higher education institutions; he wanted to close the doors that were opened with so much effort during the twentieth century. 

Lepine was in pursuit of a deadly mission. In his pocket, police found a list of his next fifteen targets. Among them were the first woman firefighter in Quebec, the first woman police captain in Quebec, a sportscaster, a bank manager, and the president of a teachers' union. In Lepine's eyes, they were all guilty of the same sin. They were all women, and they all dared to be leaders in their fields. 

Perhaps in the future Lepine will be portrayed as a crazy lonely lunatic possessed by feelings of hatred and sexism. Although to a great extent he was psychologically unstable, it is pertinent to remember that, unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident that occurred in a general context of gender equality and respect. Lepine was not the only person of his time who thought that gender equality was an inadmissible principle, and his barbaric rampage took place in a world in which violence against women was not an exceptional phenomenon but a trend of massive proportions. However, in spite of this context, the brutality and the motivation of Lepine's actions were particularly repugnant and difficult to explain. Canadian universities had never witnessed anything like that in all their history, and Canadians are still mourning for those fourteen young women whose lives and hopes were suddenly cut short. Since that fatidic 1989, every December 6 a White Ribbon Campaign has been organized to help raise awareness about violence against women.

Source: (February 17, 2001).

Prepared by DS
February 2001

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