Gun violence

26 years after Polytechnique massacre left 14 women dead, a survivor remembers

A memorial set up in Vancouver consisting of several hundred pairs of shoes in memory of all missing and murdered women in Canada, is displayed annually on the anniversary of the Montreal Ecole Polytechnique massacre that took place in 1989. (REUTERS/Andy Clark)

On December 6, 1989, a gunman entered a classroom at Montreal’s École Polytechnique and separated the men from the women. He professed his hate for feminists, to which 23-year-old Nathalie Provost replied, “I’m not feminist, I have never fought against men.” Using a hunting rifle and a semi-automatic carbine, he still shot her and the others with her before moving to the college cafeteria and another classroom, targeting women in his path. Twenty-seven people were shot and 14 women were left dead, as was the gunman, who killed himself. The suicide note in his pocket read, “If I commit suicide today it is not for economic reasons … but for political reasons because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker … I have decided to put an end to those viragos.”

Provost, who was shot four times, survived after nine days in the hospital. On the 26th anniversary of the massacre, she spoke to Yahoo’s Daily Brew about her experience that day and why she’s now fighting for gun control in Canada.

At first, when the killer took hold of her classroom, she was confused. “I was shocked and surprised, more than fear,” she said. “Fear came after, but not on the spot. I think that’s why I spoke to him. I was amazed. I could not understand. What he was saying to us didn’t make sense to me. And it’s easy for me to argue, so I answered him.” Provost said the shooting wasn’t what made her a feminist, but “living a grown-up life, in the workplace, with kids, year after year.

“For me, being a feminist is fighting for a more civilized world,” she explained.

“I will always bear scars of what happened,” she explained. But the trauma hasn’t stopped Provost from moving forward with her life. “You don’t stop every year to say, ‘Where am I on that?’ You’re not looking at a map and seeing where you’ve gone. I lived my life, I had kids and I was working.”

Though others involved in the Polytechnique massacre started pushing for gun control just after the 1989 shooting, Provost only started pushing for reform in 2009 when Canada’s government changed and became more conservative. She’s been active ever since, pushing for permits, classification and proper gun registration. Provost was in the room this month when Quebec Public Security Minister Pierre Moreau introduced a bill that would enact a new long gun registry in her providence. As compared to last year’s 25-year anniversary of the shooting, she feels like it’s a brighter beginning. “This year it’s more joyful,” she said. “I’m proud and I’m happy because we’re doing something.”

Read the full interview on Yahoo’s Daily Brew.

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