Ceremonies were held in Montreal and across the country Sunday to mark the 20th anniversary of Canada's worst mass shooting. 

Fourteen women died when shooter Marc Lépine staged his attack at Montreal's École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989.

Armed with a rifle, he stormed into a classroom, separated the men from the women, and declared he hated feminists before opening fire on the women. Lépine turned the gun on himself after his 20-minute rampage, which wounded 13 others.

The shooting, which came to be known as the Montreal Massacre, sparked a national debate about gun control and violence against women.

In 1991, Parliament declared Dec. 6 the National Day of Action and Remembrance on Violence Against Women.

Gun control laws toughened

On Sunday, the École Polytechnique hosted a private, secular ceremony at the Notre-Dame Basilica for victims' families, friends and survivors.

The post-secondary institution also invited members of the public to visit a commemorative plaque on campus honouring the 14 victims.

Quebec's Federation of Women hosted a larger event at Place Émilie-Gamelin near the Berri-UQÀM Metro station on Sunday afternoon, where several hundred Montrealers formed a human chain to protest violence.

The Quebec Council on the Status of Women also marked the 20th anniversary with a weekend conference on violence against women.

Women and campus groups in other parts of Canada also held events on Sunday.

About 250 people gathered for an hour at the Women's Monument in downtown Ottawa.

In Toronto, a candlelight vigil was held at 6 p.m. at the Philosopher's Walk, between the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto's Varsity Stadium and Arena.

In Vancouver, people gathered to express their grief and to honour other women lost to violence.

The Montreal Massacre prompted a toughening of Canada's gun control laws.

But last month, Conservatives MPs, along with a handful of Liberals and New Democrats, voted in principle to kill the long-gun registry.

The move sparked an emotional response in Quebec as Montreal's police chief, survivors of the massacre and a gun victim's mother urged politicians to support the registry.

The head of the Coalition for Gun Control said Sunday the fight to preserve the registry will continue.

"We're down, we're not out," Wendy Cukier said as she took part in the human-chain ceremony in Montreal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement Sunday it's important for Canadians to remain committed to eliminating violence against women.

"Today, on Canada's National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, we should all take time to remember and reaffirm our commitment to continue working to protect the lives, dignity and equality of all women."

With files from The Canadian Press