A candlelight ceremony was held at the University of New Brunswick last Thursday to commemorate the Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, in memory of the young women killed in the École Polytechnique shooting in Montreal 29 years ago.
The UNB Diversity Within Engineering Society hosted the well-attended event in the Dineen Auditorium of Head Hall. The most notable presence in the audience was the 14 members of the society sitting in the front row, representing the 14 women lost at the École Polytechnique de Montréal.
Dean of engineering Chris Diduch introduced the event, comparing the work done at the school in Montréal to UNB and the women lost in the shooting to the students sitting in the auditorium.
“Today’s ceremony represents a time of remembrance and a time of reflection,” Diduch said.
Maggie Forsythe, UNB Fredericton’s campus sexual assault support advocate from the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre, gave a speech in which she discussed the bravery of the women of École Polytechnique in the face of anti-feminism and oppressive gender roles.
“They were women on the cusp of innovation and advancement. They were women pursuing their dreams and ignoring the gender rules of Canadian society,” Forsythe said. “How brave and courageous is that?”
She drew attention to the anti-feminist motivations stated in the note left by the shooter, claiming that these motivations still exist in Canada today.
Forsythe cited her own research which shows that 50 per cent of reported perpetrators of sexual violence on campus are engineering students. She said this can be attributed to the gender imbalance within the faculty.
Laura Shaw, former president of the Women in Engineering Society and the current diversity and inclusion coordinator at Engineers and Geoscientists New Brunswick, shared her own experience with sexism within the field.
She described difficulties she has faced due to her gender and assumptions that women in general are unlikely to be suited for STEM-related careers.
“No, I am not an anomaly. This auditorium proves it,” Shaw said. “The women of 30 years ago prove it.”
Shaw called for action on the part of the students sitting in the auditorium.
“As future engineers, we are meant to serve the world. What if we were capable of inspiring a new generation of boys and girls to dream of growing up and creating solutions to the world's problems? That’s the kind of world that the women of École Polytechnique would have wanted to see. Let’s go create that for them,” she said.
A speech by Carmen Poulin, associate dean of arts, acknowledged a controversy she accidentally sparked at UNB’s previous Day of Remembrance ceremony. Last year she had called for the men in attendance to stand, recognizing their privilege.
“Whenever we are uncomfortable about something, we like to dilute the message,” Poulin said of the response this action provoked. She said that instead society must discuss the hardships faced by women purely as a result of their gender in order to overcome them.
“Let’s support those who do take a stand; let’s remember, mourn, and reflect; and let’s organize against violence against women,” Poulin said.
Between each speech, individuals read poems that honour the fallen women of École Polytechnique. A lighting of 14 candles concluded the ceremony, accompanied by a moment of silence to remember the students: Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.