Sunday, December 06, 2009

Never Forget

Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

Never forget those names.

Twenty years ago today, I was at home in Edmonton when the news came that there had been a shooting at a university in Montreal. In those days, 24 hour news was not so omnipresent, and so much of the information was slow to trickle out. The first thing I remember was news that most (and of course, as it sadly turned out, all) of the victims were women. For some reason, at the time I heard that there was still no confirmation that the school was L'Ecole Polytechnique.

I was home with my stepdaughter Zoe that day, and I also remember her being quite annoyed with me that I wouldn't let her out of my sight. Indeed, I spent a good part of the day wanting to hold onto her. The idea that she would one day grow into a young woman who might possible be targeted by some sick son of a bitch because of her gender absolutely appalled me. Yes, the tragedy was not anything we hadn't seen before, aside from the sheer frightening scale, and yes, I was in no way directly affected. But there's something about having a little girl, whether or not she is your flesh and blood, that can bring this sort of monstrous event much closer to home.

The other thing that hit me that day was that my little sister was a university student in Montreal. She was at McGill, of course, and eventually word did come out that the bastard (I refuse to use his name - already too many people remember his name and not those of the victims) had targeted female engineering students at Polytechnique. I recall the fear I felt, the worry that she would have been one of the targets, even though the rational part of me knew the odds were so extraordinarily long.

When the University of Alberta put up their memorial to the victims, Jo and I attended the ceremony (this was when we were dating), along with my sister Joy-Anne and our friend Randy Reichardt. On that day I was interviewed by a reporter from one of the local TV stations, wondering why I was there.

Let me clarify the way the question was phrased, so that you can ponder on it for a moment: the reporter (a woman) wanted to know why I was there because I was a man.

I note that the reporter was female only to point out just how clueless many people were in those days, no matter the gender. There were reports from some memorial services that men were not welcome, that women were taunting them and chasing them away. I can tell you that I never saw such a reaction at any of the memorial services I attended, even the one I went to the week of the massacre. It may have happened elsewhere, but idiot reporters asking dumb questions could only hope they would luck into an interview subject whose back would not get up too much and who would answer intelligently about loss and fear and admiration for those who picked themselves up and carried on. Whether or not that was me, I'm not objective enough to say, but I do know that it didn't seem to matter to anyone there - aside from the press - had a penis.

Since that day, I have learned that random violence can strike close, and that the odds may be long but someone will still lose. In 2007 my friend Michael Bishop lost his son Jamie in the shootings at Virginia Tech, one of 32 who were killed.

I hate that these hateful and horrible tragedies still happen. I know it's too much to hope that they will never happen again, but it's a hope I can't let go of. In the meantime, I will ask everyone who reads it to remember the victims, and I will hold the women in my life close to me today, in reality or virtually. The men and the boys, too, but today is especially for Zoe and Joy-Anne and Jo.

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It was an unforgettable, terrible day. I am hoping to make it to the memorial here sometime soon.
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