MONTREAL -- A global disease may change the way Montreal and the rest of Canada pay tribute to the 14 women who lost their lives in the 1989 Polytechnique massacre, but it won't stop them from doing it. 

Part of that commemoration, for the past six years, has been the Order of the White Rose ceremony, where one deserving woman is awarded $30,000 to pursue graduate studies in engineering. 

This year's recipient is Brielle Chanae Thorsen, a woman from Cochrane, Alta. and a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, who earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics from Queen's University in Kingtson, Ont.

Thorsen is now pursuing a master's degree in engineering at the same school. 

In addition to her studies, Thorsen has worked in robotics engineering for the Counter-Terrorism Technology Centre at Defence and Research Development Canada as well as in engineering data management for Suncor Energy. 

“We all need to remember the women who came before us, especially the victims and survivors of the Polytechnique tragedy," Thorsen said in a news release announcing her win.

"We must all have an equal opportunity to pursue a rewarding career without being the targets of discrimination or violence, regardless of our gender, race, sexuality, or religion.”

Thorsen has also participated in a variety of research programs, notably ones that aim to help optimize the use of elecricity in the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“I want to follow in the footsteps of my father, who is also an engineer. Throughout my academic career I’ve had the opportunity to explore different facets of mechanical engineering. I’m now in a position to make an informed choice about what inspires me most—which is specializing in sustainable energy," she said.

"I am a strong nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) and a fearless female engineer. I plan to use my knowledge to benefit Indigenous communities in the North, and to run my own business.”

Thorsen has devoted herself to student life, joining several groups such as the Queen's University Mathematics and Engineering Curriculum Committee, the Queen's chapter of the Canadian Indigenous Science and Engineering Society, and Queen's Engineers Without Borders.

She is also part of the Circle of Advisors for the Queen's Aboriginal Access to Engineering Initiative, as well as the first Canadian student representative elected to the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. 

The scholarship was created on the 25th anniversary of the Polytechnique tragedy and is awarded annually by the school's administration. One of the women who was injured in the attack, Nathalie Roy, is one of the scholarship's patrons. 

“We’re very proud to say that in Autumn 2020, the proportion of women in our undergraduate engineering programs exceeds 29 per cent, whereas in 1989, women accounted for only 17 per cent of Polytechnique’s student body," said Philippe A. Tanguay, the president of Polytechnique.

"Today, their numbers have reached or surpassed parity in certain specialties, such as biomedical engineering and chemical engineering." 


Those who would like to participate in this year's ceremony to commemorate the women who were injured and killed, more than 30 years ago, in the anti-feminist attack are being asked to do so virtually, by joining the 12 Days Committee's live broadcast on Facebook from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 6. 

The committee and spokespeople will meet as usual at the Place du 6 decembre to carry out the hybrid commemoration. 

The awareness campaign for the Polytechnique massacre stretches from Nov. 25 to Dec. 6 and is "an opportunity to collectively reflect on the different forms of violence that affect women, as well as to present concrete solutions to eradicate violence," reads a news release. 

Women's groups across the province organize activities during the near two-week period to raise awareness on violence against women. 

"The duty to remember is essential in order to commit ourselves to eradicating all forms of violence against women," the release says. 

The anniversary of the attack has since been declared the National Day of Rememberance and Action on Violence Against Women.