14 rays of light over Montreal for the 14 fallen women 25 years ago.
14 rays of light over Montreal for the 14 fallen women 25 years ago.

December 6 is a date I remember with a heavy heart, every year. Although I was in the United States at the time of the event, 25 years ago, I recall how helpless and hurt I felt upon hearing the news. It was the day a man shot women at random in a classroom at Polytechnique, the engineering school at Université de Montreal. Because they were women, and because they represented, to him, the “feminists who ruined his life.”

At the time I was living my own story of domestic violence, my ex had blamed the family court judge’s decision to give me custody on “feminists”, and I was making plans to leave the man I loved and feared, to save my life and that of my child. I was alone and terrified, and managed to get out by the grace of God. But the story of that exodus will be the subject of another post at another time. Let’s just say that at the time, the events in Montreal shook me to the core. Fear and hatred are universal, aren’t they.

Many words have been shared about the tragedy. Much has been written in an attempt to understand. But the pit of loss remains. The chasm of the trauma is still wide. As is the need to squelch the inner turmoil of the abuser and the need of the abused not to fear their own existence.

In that light, on Thursday, December 4th, 2014, in reference to the hashtag for which she is now famous, Sue Montgomery had organized a fundraising event at La Tulipe, a popular venue in Montreal, to support organizations that help women who are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Sue Montgomery was a journalist covering judicial matters for The Montreal Gazette at the time. But she is also an incest survivor, and in September 2014, she made a bold move, adding her voice to what has since become a movement across Canada — and the world — to end the silence surrounding sexual assault.

In the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi meltdown at the CBC in October of 2014, and the incredulous reaction of men who don’t believe the women who denounce their abusers several years after the fact, Sue co-created the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported, with fellow journalist Antonia Zerbisias, because she knows first hand the reasons why so many rapes are not reported. As I do. As thousands of women do.

In the days after Sue “pressed SEND”, the hashtag was used more than 8 million times to tell the stories of women (and men) to whom it has happened. Clearly, she says, this represents “the terrifying snapshot of a global epidemic.”

Sue Montgomery at the Polytechnique 25th Anniversary Commemorations, December 6, 2014.

In her address at the 25th anniversary commemoration of Polytechnique in Montreal Saturday, December 6, 2014, the new poster girl for leadership for women’s rights shared her own experience with an impressive and poised candour.

Then she spoke directly to those elected to write policy and, with headstrong resolve, delivered what seems to be her leitmotiv now, carried by the strength of the hashtag and her own resilience, to effect change in government and society.

“We say, no more! We need to translate this tragedy into real change, in our schools, our work places and our homes. We are coming to an election year [Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister in 2015], and it is time we ask the government, ‘What are you going to do to protect women’s rights?’ […] We are more powerful than we think!”

This video is a glimpse of the opening remarks shared by witnesses and survivors* of the shooting, known in French as Polytechnique and in English as The Montreal Massacre, at the fundraiser in December 2014. Followed by Sue’s impassioned call for action, captured in an impromptu interview during the show.

*The women who spoke at the show were journalists: Francine Pelletier was on Marc Lepine’s hit list, and Caroline Van Vlaardigan covered Polytechnique for CTV at the time.

Sophie Pascal

Updated December 6, 2016