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Advisory Council on the Status of Women

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20 Years After the Montreal Massacre

Special resources to mark 20 years since the Montreal Massacre of December 6, 1989 20 Years Logo

For Montreal

In 1989 on PEI i was 10 years old. I was a good kid, I did what I was told. I went to swimming lessons then so i could protect myself in the water. I went to grade school so i could prepare myself to be a grown-up in the world ’cause i would someday have a job there. My parents, like any others, just wanted to keep safe their young daughter. And so though they listened to the news they didn’t relay back to me what went on there.

In 1999 i was 20 years old. I had survived puberty, high school, and life in a residence dorm. I had survived date rape just like every other woman I know. I had taken abuses and hate from men who were acquaintances and strangers both. And in 1999 I found an anger on the inside and I began to let it show.

I followed in the footsteps of women I didn’t even know, who had all been hurt before, who lived and died trying to tie the score, until there was nothing left to be fighting for. My feet fell in time with the beat of females marching in the night to take back our rights or maybe gain them or feel safe for the first time. In peace we came together to remember those who died.

And also in 1999  I began to see I was, indeed, a feminist. I knew the Montreal Massacre had happened ten years previous but I didn’t yet know the details of it. I have since been educated; for instance, I’ve learned that in an institution of learning a man went spreading his message. In a classroom he separated the sexes and he kept the women and he sent the men out and maybe some protested but still they all went out. And then he had a truly captive audience. And so before he shot them he made sure he taught them what he thought about why they deserved what they got, he said, “I hate feminists”

The shots rang out in the cold December air and soon but not soon enough the police were there and 14 people had perished.

The news was all over this. 14 dead. More injured. And what of the fact that they were women? What of the fact that a man killed them as a revenge he waged against feminism? Well, the presses didn’t much mention this. Instead, they stressed the importance of honouring the victims, mourning the losses, not making this into a feminist issue or something to strengthen our causes.

And why not? Why shouldn’t a vendetta against women be reflected upon? Why shouldn’t we have a discussion on the fact that misogyny is still strong and the massacre in Montreal was one man’s assault on women, each with her own face, as well as feminism, a call to bring equality to half the human race. After all, ever since women existed there has been violence against us. On Prince Edward Island it is no different. In 1989, here, too, women were victims. Some lived to talk about it and some didn’t. Some segments of the population simply went missing. First Nations women, for instance; poor people living on the fringes and those working in the sex industry… ’cause as long as there are classes there are those who matter to people in power and those on the periphery.

But in 1989 in Montreal feminism was a topic on the table that no one wanted to debrief.

And of course, mourn the victims, support those who witnessed it and will twitch in haunted dreams as it sticks with them. Grieve the people whose lives he took with him. But, remember, too, there is a system this was rooted in. He did not grow up in a bubble. Or learn in a bubble. Or become a killer ’cause he was living in a bubble. He walked city streets like anybody. And maybe he had a murderer’s tendencies but we can’t excuse events like these to crazy people and anomalies without also questioning the society that raised them, the influences that shaped them, the school systems that trained them, the media that played to them, the ideas that swayed them and the meanings and actions that came from them.

Today, we search for meaning still. I put my words into the world using my full name and not just my initials. Female writers have not always been this free.  I am a  working woman now but there were so many more before me.

In 1989 I was only 10 years old. Montreal was miles away yet it was right next door. 14 murdered women were strangers but they were women we know. Because violence didn’t start there and then and it didn’t end with them, it is the whole world over. It’s here on our island home and the blood blends with the red soil. And tears are shed for all our toils.

We remember them because we cannot forget. We stand in honour of all women. And when we march and are followed by honourable men we welcome their support, we welcome them. And as we the follow feminists who have gone ahead, for the path they paved we thank them. And for the women who are living and for those who have passed their last breath, we show them every time we gather, that we will work, and we will hurt until the violence ends.

Tanya Davis 2009
Commissioned for the 20th Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre


Research and publications to mark 20 years after the Montreal Massacre were made possible by a grant from the PEI Interministerial Women's Secretariat and ongoing support for the Purple Ribbon Campaign from the Premier's Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention.

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