Montreal·Point of View

Montreal massacre barbarism can be countered by hope

Where are we 25 years after that tragedy? CBC guest blogger, and chair of École Polytechnique's board of directors, Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire says she's heartened by the simple fact that we can ask ourselves the question.

Guest blogger Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire encouraged by introspection on Polytechnique shooting anniversary

Sonia Pelletier was one of 14 women killed at Montreal's École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989. (Chris Wattie/Retuers)

On Dec. 6, 1989, our entire country suffered a deep wound. It was the kind that leaves indelible scars, but also the kind that can change us for the better as a community if we find the courage and resilience. Where are we, 25 years after that tragedy?

I am heartened by the simple fact that we can ask ourselves the question.

It tells me that our society is capable of introspection. That we are able to reflect on the progress we have made toward equality. On the circumstances that can precipitate catastrophes like that of 25 years ago. And on the actions we must take to eliminate them.

As head of communications at Polytechnique at the time of the tragedy, I found myself, along with my colleagues, caught up in the turmoil of trying to manage a human and logistical crisis the likes of which we had never seen.

And as those terrible hours unfolded, I witnessed singular acts of generosity and solidarity on the part of Polytechnique faculty, employees, senior executives, students and various members of society.

It is in the most trying of times that the true sense of community is felt most acutely, and 25 years ago I felt proud of the values espoused by the Polytechnique community.

That pride lives to this day, and I remain convinced that the best way to counteract the effects of an act of barbarism is to give the best of oneself.

Today, I note with similar pride that the number of women enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs at Polytechnique has grown from 16 per cent of the student body in 1989 to 27 per cent in 2014, and that the proportion of our female undergrads in engineering (24 per cent) is significantly high.

A Polytechnique degree heralds a successful career and a good income, and it gladdens me to think of these young women’s future.

'Grey gold'

Looking at the broader picture, social advances like pay-equity legislation and introduction of the subsidized daycare system have greatly served the cause of equality in Québec.

While our society has clearly progressed when it comes to human rights and equality, nothing can ever be taken for granted. A long road remains to be travelled!

To address all the scientific, technological, social and humanitarian challenges before us, more than ever we need all available brainpower, both female and male — what I like to call “grey gold.”

To build a just and sustainable society, we also need intelligence and heart. And those qualities are showed by men and women.

About the Author

A graduate of École Polytechnique, Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire worked as a structural engineer for nearly 20 years. She served as Polytechnique's public relations manager for almost a decade. She was the executive director of Centraide Greater Montreal until 2012, when she was appointed chair of the board of directors of the Corporation de l’École Polytechnique de Montréal.