MONTREAL -- A crowd of hundreds stood atop Mont-Royal Friday evening for a sombre ceremony remembering 14 women slain in a violent anti-feminist attack 30 years ago.

The names of the women killed that day were read aloud by two current École Polytechnique students, as 14 beams of light lit up Montreal skies. The ceremony began at 5:10 p.m. – the time the first shots were fired on that night of Dec. 6, 1989.

Quebecois actress Karine Vanasse, who starred in the film Polytechnique, hosted the ceremony.

"Tonight we're together on Mont-Royal for these 14 women, but we're far from alone," said Vanasse, saying there are thousands grieving across Montreal, Quebec and Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General Julie Payette, Quebec Premier François Legault and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante are among the dignitaries attending the memorial event.

Herself an engineer, Payette gave a moving address.

"The belittling, the dehumanizing, the name calling that we observe so often – especially to women who raise their heads above the crowd – we have to say no," she said. 

Catherine Bergeron, whose sister Genevieve was killed in the massacre, also spoke with great emotion.

"These 14 beams of light let us know where we are and above all, help guide us where we want to be," she said. "The lights that shine over Canada today are lit for you, in your names and your memory. We will love you forever."

After a solemn chorus, Plante, Payette, Trudeau and others laid white roses at the base of the memorial mosaic.

"I want us to promise the 14 women that we will be brave and use the right words when it comes to describing acts of violence against women," said Vanasse, who asked those in attendance to raise their arms to the sky in solidarity. "Thank you, 30 years later, for being there for them." 

The crowd applauded when Trudeau reaffirmed his promise to ban "military-style assault weapons." 

The ceremony closed with a rendition of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah.'

The vigil was one of several ceremonies held in Montreal and throughout the country on Friday.

To commemorate the anniversary, students and staff at the Polytechnique placed a wreath of white roses at a commemorative plaque.

At 12 p.m., the Quebec Women's Federation held a commemorative ceremony at Place du-6-Décembre-1989 as part of its 12 days to end violence against women campaign. 

Across the country, 14 engineering schools also shined a beam of light in honour of the victims.

A country remembers

There was a minute of silence in Parliament Friday morning as Canadian politicians took a moment to remember the victims of the Montreal massacre.

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, the first female engineer elected to the House of Commons, fought back tears as she listed the names of the 14 women murdered in the anti-feminist act.

"These women were my sisters," she said. "I name them now to respect them for the strong women they are and were."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted it is unacceptable that gender-based violence remains an ongoing threat to women's safety.

"Each December, as we honour the memories of those 14 women, the survivors and the families, we promise to do better," he said. "But the reality is that in 30 years, things haven't changed enough. Women, girls and people of diverse gender identities still face unacceptable and preventable violence -- violence that destroys lives, families and communities. It is more than time for change."

Schools in Montreal, and across the country, held moments of silence to remember the victims of the shooting. At John Abbott College, on Montreal's West Island, students and staff gathered in the lobby of the Anne-Marie Edward Science Building, named after one of the women who died that day. Female students read speeches, laid white roses and affirmed their commitment to the scientific field. 

A devastating day

The Dec. 6, 1989 shooting took place at the engineering school, affiliated with Université de Montréal.

The shooter claimed he was “fighting feminism” when he walked into a classroom and asked the men to leave the room. Once they did, he opened fire on the nine women left, killing six.

“I thought it was a hostage-taking and we would be attacked once we entered the corridor,” Yvon Bouchard, the professor teaching the class told La Presse, speaking about the tragedy for the first time in 30 years.

“Usually, when they separate the men from the women and children, how could you guess it'll be the children that are killed?”

The shooter then moved through the corridors, cafeteria and another classroom, specifically targeting women for about 20 minutes before turning the gun on himself.

The École Polytechnique massacre is known as the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history and is seen as a devastating event that sparked a wider conversation about violence against women.

The women who lost their lives that day were:

  • Geneviève Bergeron (1968–1989), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (1968–1989), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (1960–1989), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (1958–1989), nursing student
  • Maryse Laganière (1964–1989), budget clerk at the school’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (1966–1989), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (1961–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (1968–1989), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (1969–1989), materials engineering student

In addition, multiple suicides were reported among students who witnessed the massacre, including two who left notes saying their agony was caused by the shooting.

The incident has since led to an ongoing fight over gun control laws in Canada.

“Even though there has been some minor progress, we’re still far away from what we need to have in terms of gun control,” said Heidi Rathjen, a survivor of the Polytechnique shooting and gun control activist.

“Thirty years after the tragedy, we still haven’t banned the weapon that killed 14 women and injured as many others in less than 20 minutes.”

Drastic changes in the police’s tactical response to these types of incidents, after the force was heavily criticized, were later credited with minimizing casualties at the 2006 Dawson College shooting that killed one student.