The Current

Montreal Massacre survivor welcomes new recognition it was an 'anti-feminist attack'

Nathalie Provost didn't see herself as feminist at the time of the Montreal Massacre 30 years ago, and received criticism for saying as much to the attacker at École Polytechnique. But she welcomes a new memorial sign that recognizes the killings as anti feminist.

Nathalie Provost didn't see herself as feminist the day of the École Polytechnique killings, 30 years ago

Nathalie Provost was shot 4 times when Marc Lépine attacked École Polytechnique in 1989. A new sign at Place du 6-Décembre-1989 recognizes the shooting as an antifeminist attack. (Susan McKenzie/CBC)

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Nathalie Provost, a survivor of the Montreal Massacre, has welcomed a new commemorative plaque that recognizes the violence as an "anti-feminist attack."

"I'm very happy that it clearly says what happened," said Provost, who was shot four times when Marc Lépine attacked École Polytechnique 30 years ago, on Dec. 6, 1989.

"I hadn't realized it was not obvious — because for me it's so obvious that Marc Lépine was there because he was against feminists."

Until recently, signs at Place du 6-Décembre-1989 — the memorial park in central Montreal — referred to the "tragic event" where 14 women died, but did not state that they were killed because of their gender.

A sign erected in recent weeks explicitly calls the massacre an "anti-feminist attack," and condemns "all forms of violence against women."

Provost looks at the new sign at Place du 6-Décembre-1989. (Susan McKenzie/CBC)

When the attack occurred, Provost says she didn't think of herself as a feminist.

On the day of the attack, Lépine entered Provost's classroom, separated the men from the women and said, "I am fighting feminism."

Provost told him that they weren't feminists — they were just students.

"I answered spontaneously. Did I answer that also to save my life? Maybe a bit, I will never be able to know," she told The Current.

"From my point of view at that time, I [could not] say that I was a feminist because … in my perception, I didn't have to fight to be where I was," she said.

Provost's words did not stop Lépine​​​​​​, who shot all nine women in the room, killing six. In total he shot 27 people, killing 14, before fatally shooting himself.

The names of the 14 victims are displayed at Place du 6-Décembre-1989. (Susan McKenzie/CBC)

Provost didn't want to 'usurp' feminism

Provost was actually discussing feminism with another female engineering student at lunch on the day of the attack.

"[We] were saying that we felt pretty comfortable at school … we didn't have the feeling that there was any difference being evaluated as a man or as a woman," she recalled.

"So when Marc Lépine told us that he was there because we were feminists, that was so far from what I've been through, what I've lived, what I believed, and that discussion of that day." 

Despite being a victim in the attack, Provost faced some backlash for what she said to Lépine.

She said some feminists in Quebec viewed it as a rejection of what they had fought for all those years.

Bollards at Place du 6-Décembre-1989 bear the initials of the 14 victims of the 1989 attack. Their full names are spelled out in the landscaping of the park. (Susan McKenzie/CBC)

Provost said she understands why some people were disappointed.

"After all they have done [to create] the possibility for me to be in École Polytechnique ... I was not recognizant of the fact."

At the time, Provost associated feminism with the way her mother had fought for equality and for her to have a better life.

She felt she would be "usurping" the word for herself, when she wasn't fighting the same fights as women from earlier generations.

Nathalie Provost wears her iron engineering ring on her smallest fingers. Engineers wear them as a reminder of the obligations and ethics of their profession. (Susan McKenzie/CBC)

It took almost a decade, but Provost's view of the world — and herself — changed, and she now calls herself a feminist.

"In my opinion, we have to remember what we are to be able to grow," she said.

"If we want to live a better life and to live in a better world, we have to know what's wrong with us, not just what's good."

Written by Allie Jaynes with files from CBC News. Produced by Susan McKenzie.