On November 29th, Women in Engineering UBC and the UBC Engineering Undergraduate society held a memorial and vigil to remember the 14 women who were killed in the 1989 tragedy at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal.
Since the tragedy in 1989, Canada has designated December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, serving as a reminder of the gender-based violence against women in Canada and around the world that persists today.
By 12:00 pm, all the chairs set up in the Engineering Student Centre were filled and more people were standing along the sides of the room. The co-chair of Women in Engineering UBC, Solma Sundu, and the president of the Engineering Undergraduate society, Daniel Luo, began the memorial with a recount of happened 28 years ago when an armed man walked into an engineering class at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. After forcing the men to leave, he stated that he hated feminists and began to shoot the women in the class. He killed 14 women and injured ten more that day.
The program consisted of several speakers sharing their thoughts and experiences on violence against women and the events of 1989. I found that Sheryl Staub-French, a UBC engineering professor and women’s activist, gave an impactful speech on what the day means to her and how she has seen things change in response to the tragedy. She pointed out that today, 40% of the Engineering professors at UBC are female and that the number of female students has grown tremendously since the time the massacre happened, but it is still not equal. Most importantly she reminded us all that “we must not be complacent” when it comes to inequality and gender-based violence.
After all the remarks, we were invited to join the vigil outside of the Engineering Design Centre. As we made our way to the courtyard, there was a table with candles and white ribbons. Hanging above the table were portraits of the 14 women who were killed. Seeing the names and smiling faces of these women was especially poignant for me because they looked so young and had so much more life to live before it was all unfairly taken away.
Once everyone was gathered in the courtyard, 14 female engineering students walked up one by one to place a white rose on a commemorative plaque as the names of the 14 women were read aloud. We held a minute of silence for reflection.
The memorial was a meaningful reminder that we must not forget the events that happened in 1989. It served to make us seriously reflect on the inequality and gender-based violence that still exists today in the field of engineering and beyond. We must not be afraid to have an open conversation about these difficult topics in order to truly address the issue.