It has been 30 years since the deadly massacre at École Polytechnique – a time today’s young students don’t remember because they weren’t yet alive.
However, the murders on Dec. 6, 1989 of 14 women, targeting them in an act against feminism, changed Montreal as a whole and sparked a greater conversation about women in science.
“I saw it as motivation because to see that someone wants you to not do something because of your gender, it pushed me to be like, ‘you’re wrong, I’m going to prove you wrong,’” said Sarah Daraj, a second-year health science student at Dawson College.
“I hope that’s how most women feel about science. You should not be stopped because someone doesn’t believe in you. You should keep on going and prove them wrong.”
Daraj, who says she’s always been curious about the world around her, found out about the deadly massacre when she was in high school.
One of her teachers had shared the story of a friend, who was in the classroom first targeted by the shooter.
“When he shot them, she hid under the desk and he shot her leg. Then, the shooter came back a second time, kicking everyone to make sure they were very dead,” Daraj recounts the story.
“He kicked her and she tried her best not to scream to make him believe she was dead…the cruelty behind this act, shooting them and then making sure you have succeeded…I’m still scarred by this story.”
Learning about the devastating deaths also hit close to home for Paula Sanchez, a second-year student in Dawson College’s enriched science program.
Her mother is a computer engineer and paved the way to allow her to look at science as a career option.
“In her time, she was the only person in her whole class because it’s a very male-dominated science,” she said. “She always told me if you want to do something, you do it. Don’t care what other people think, especially if it’s in science.”
Through her studies, Sanchez says she hopes to honour her mother and the women who lost their lives.
“Those women, they didn’t deserve what happened to them…it’s, in a way, trying to commemorate them and make their sacrifice not completely useless because they were stopped by somebody else,” she said.
What happened in 1989 is a tragedy seared in the minds of many Montrealers who can still recall where they were when they heard about it.
“It was a really terrible tragedy that happened to women who are pursuing their dreams and doing what they love,” said Shu Yin Han, a second-year health science and enriched science student at Dawson College. “They were really brave to do what they did, and still, they were killed for that.”
Still today, the École Polytechnique massacre is known as the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history; a devastating event that sparked a wider conversation about violence against women.
A bright future for these women scientists
Daraj has aspirations of studying medicine and biomedical engineering to do research and work with Doctors without Borders.
“I believe we have come a long way. Yes, there is still a discrepancy in women staying [in science], but I think in a few years it will change if we keep a positive attitude,” she said.
Sanchez plans to study medicine or bio-engineering to become a doctor.
“Science is just asking questions and trying to find the answers…the goal of science is learning about yourself and about the world around you,” she stated.
Han hopes to study medicine and research either immunology or biology to study and cure infectious diseases to “stop them from being used for biological warfare.”
“I’m really proud that there are girls who are willing to take the steps to do what they want and not be intimidated by gender, by men or whatever stands in our way,” she noted. “They’re role models to me because they’re courageous.”