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University of Waterloo | Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Friday, December 4, 1998

  • Fourteen . . . not forgotten today
  • Other events on a Friday
  • The first weekend of December
  • 'A public event for a reason'
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Fourteen . . . not forgotten today

A memorial service will be held today for fourteen women who were shot dead at Montréal's Ecole Polytechnique on December 6, 1989. The "Montréal Massacre" was the work of a gunman who identified female engineering students as "feminists" and shouted that he "hated" them. The killer committed suicide.

The events of that Wednesday afternoon were mourned across Canada. The flag at the main entrance to UW was lowered as part of the national grief, and a memorial service was held in Federation Hall. Nine years later, the grief is still felt, and the incident is the focus for strong feelings about violence, feminism, gun control, politics, tragedy and evil.

Speakers will reflect on those events at the memorial in Siegfried Hall, St. Jerome's University, today at 4:30 p.m., with discussion groups planned after the service to continue the dialogue.

In conjunction with the memorial, the annual rose button campaign has been going on, with proceeds earmarked for local women's shelters. The buttons can be purchased at the Engineering Society office in Carl Pollock Hall or at the turnkey desk in the Student Life Centre.

A key organizer of today's event is fourth-year systems design engineering student Christine Cheng. I asked her why the Montréal killings, which took place while she was in junior high school, are so important to her now, and at the end of this Bulletin I'm going to quote from her reply at length.

Other events on a Friday

A private funeral is being held today for Eleanor Duff Hagey, widow of UW's founding president, who died Tuesday. Gerald Hagey, president of the university from its founding until 1968, married her in 1967, two years after the death of his first wife, Minota. Gerry Hagey himself died in October 1988.

The psychology department will hold its second annual holiday cookie sale today in the third-floor lounge, "from 10:00 a.m. until every morsel has been sold", Rita Cherkewski says. "The delicious home-made treats have been donated by students, staff and faculty. The organizers are also offering a chance to win some very nice prizes -- gift certificates to two local restaurants or a Tie by Trish. All proceeds will go to the PAS lounge fund."

People will look a mite informal in the department of co-op education and career services in Needles Hall today. It's a dress-down day as a fund-raiser "for the department's Christmas project". I haven't heard, or perhaps the CECS folks haven't yet decided, just what agency will benefit this year.

An out-of-the-ordinary session on teaching is scheduled for 12:30 in Math and Computer building room 5158. "Oxford University has long been known for its centuries-old tutorial system," a memo from the teaching resource office says. "If you want to see how that might translate to the Internet, join Peter Marteinson of French studies for an online guided tour." He'll use an on-line example of an Oxford tutorial to talk about "teaching literature via web media". Advance information: ext. 3132.

The statistics and actuarial science department presents Andrew Cairns of Heriot Watt University (that's in Edinburgh) this afternoon. He'll speak at 3:30 (Math and Computer room 5136) on "Optimal Control of Pension Plans".

End-of-term concerts by UW's musical groups continue. Tonight at 7:30, in St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in downtown Kitchener, it's "Four Choirs at Christmas", bringing the Conrad Grebel Chapel Choir together with three off-campus, Mennonite-related choirs. Tickets are $12, students $10.

At 8 p.m., the Kiwanis Travelogue series brings Israel to the Humanities Theatre.

And . . . today's the last day of operation in 1998 for a couple of food services outlets, namely the Festival Room cafeteria in South Campus Hall (except that it'll serve a special Christmas lunch December 14-18) and the Tim Horton's counter in the Optometry building. Another seasonal change: the Modern Languages coffee shop is ending its evening hours until the new term begins, and will close at 3:30 Monday to Friday.

The first weekend of December

The annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition comes tomorrow, with the possibility of fame, if not exactly fortune, for high-scoring math undergraduates. The Putnam exam will be written at campuses across Canada and the United States -- at UW, in Math and Computer room 4059, from 9:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. Last-minute information should be available from Christopher Small in the statistics department, phone ext. 5541.

Interuniversity sports are pretty much on hold for exam season, but there's one event on the schedule -- the indoor track begins its season with a meet at noon tomorrow at Western.

A reception is scheduled from 2 to 5 tomorrow at Kitchener City Hall to honour Abe Elmasry of the department of electrical and computer engineering. Recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Elmasry is also well known as a leader among Canadian Muslims; tomorrow's reception is sponsored by Cross Cultures magazine.

Two choir concerts are scheduled for Saturday night at 8. At St. John's Lutheran Church in central Waterloo, UW's Chamber Choir presents "In Die Natalis: A Concert of Italian Baroque Christmas Music". Tickets are $8, students $5. At the River Run Centre in Guelph, UW's University Choir joins the University of Guelph Choir for "Rejoice! Christmas Classics of Brass and Choir". Tickets there are $15, students $8.

The staff association's annual pre-Christmas party for kids, Winterfest, is scheduled for Sunday from 2 to 4 at the Columbia Icefield. A note from the association office: "All those that registered for the event will receive their free drink tickets when they arrive. Parking is available in Lot X, located behind the Optometry building."


'A public event for a reason'
-- Christine Cheng comments on the December 6 memorial

[Rose and candle] After our conversation last week, I sat back and thought long and hard about what we're trying to do with this event, because like it or not, it has become an "event". The members of the organizing committee are trying to de-politicize it by making it personal, but we can't deny that it is a public event for a reason.

1989 seems so long ago . . . that was the end of Communism and the height of the real estate boom. Nine years later, here we are: so much has changed and yet, nothing has changed. You said to me that it seemed like just yesterday that the killings took place, but nine years is a long, long time. Especially when you're only 23, like me. I was 14 years old and in grade nine on December 6, 1989. I did not completely understand the killings and why they had happened. I had no idea I would end up, five years later, studying to be an engineer. And for those of us in first year at UW, these students would only have been 9 years old, and in the middle of grade 5 -- how can you relate to this experience at this age?

I understood at the time that the gunman was a sociopathic killer, but I had no explanation as to how this could have possibly happened in the world that I had grown up in. His irrational behaviour didn't fit into my model of how things worked and I had no reason to think of him as anything other than an extremist, someone who would not and could not listen to reason. My solution was to exclude him from my world, to cast him out. I guess this also meant that, to some extent, I ignored the impact of what he had done and the hatred that he represented. There was nothing in my social conditioning that allowed me to understand his deep-seated despisal of women, and in particular, of feminists.

Now, nine years later, I have a slightly better sense of the methodically rational side of his actions. After all, it was not in a rage of passionate fury that he committed these murders. A virtual hit list was found on his body consisting of fifteen high-profile women: these included the first woman firefighter in Québec, the first woman police captain in Québec, a sportscaster, a bank manager and a president of a teachers' union.

Society recognizes that he was a psychopath -- but to what extent was he a product of social influences, and how much of it was sheer and utter isolated madness? The two of us talked about the continuum and where this event would sit on this continuum. I don't have an answer for this. What I do know is that it was and still is, to a greater or lesser extent, a reflection of society's attitudes towards women.

So we must ask ourselves: How do these attitudes filter down through the rest of society? When a male classmate jokingly says to me that I won my scholarship because I am female, how am I supposed to interpret that? How does that relate to the fact that the killer felt that these women got into engineering because they were female? He certainly felt that they were taking up his "rightful" place in the program. Am I taking up the "rightful" place of another disgruntled male in systems design engineering?

He committed an extreme act, but society is at a crossroads right now -- we value women's equality, but the lingering effects of centuries of discrimination is not going to disappear overnight and we have to recognize that together. We are valued in the eyes of the law. But in practice, systematic discrimination still goes on, even if it isn't as obvious as it used to be. Women are not equal. If we were, everyone would understand that December 6, 1989, was just an aberration, a blip in the stats. But obviously, the need for an event like Fourteen Not Forgotten implicitly underscores the fact that there are many of us who still harbour a milder version of the killer's views. How else to explain the fact that women are more likely to be killed by their spouses than by an outsider?

Also, we have to remember that fourteen women were killed, but hundreds, maybe thousands of people were affected, men and women. What could my male classmates have possibly done if I was being shot at? Not too much. And how can we accept this conclusion: that we are helpless in the face of irrational evil? That is why we remember December 6. Hopefully, by speaking out against these attitudes and these acts of violence, we are helping society address these issues to make sure that it never happens again. Men and women who survived the massacre still have to bear the burden of the death of their classmates. These people will live in fear all their lives. How do we collectively deal with that? What about when these fears are conveyed to their children and grandchildren? All it takes is one gunman to spread his hatred, and the effects are felt far and wide. This memorial is, in many ways, a show of solidarity against everything that killer stood for. That is why we mourn, and why we must continue to remember.

Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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