30 Years Later: Remember December 6

On December 6, 1989, a gunman killed 14 women − 13 students and one staff – at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, before killing himself. 

He had studied for admission to the school, but was not accepted — a decision he blamed on “affirmative action” policies in Canada. 

Before December 6, Canadians may have understood incidences of violence against women as individual acts of meanness, a symptom of stress, poor anger management, or as an inexplicable accident.  But the Polytechnique rampage was a strategic attack of hatred and fear targeting women – no less, women’s pursuit of gender equity. 

Following the Montreal massacre, women’s advocates and their many allies drew important connections between the events of December 6, 1989, and issues of gender equity, attitudes about women and other folks targeted or harmed for their social identity, and the role that Canadian policies, including law, can have in achieving women’s safety. 

1989 was a long time ago. Some may be tempted to think it is less important to talk about the prevalence and impacts of gender-based violence – or what happened on that day in 1989 – today. But we think it remains just as important.

The Montréal Massacre in 1989 was “a lethal manifestation”[1] of hatred, and a desire to define what women can and should be. This kind of mass violence continues to be promoted in movements like the incel (“involuntary celibate”) movement, a group the Toronto van attacker belonged to.  Attackers like these share “a narrow and oppressive set of beliefs about how gender [women] should be…present in our society”[2]; and how it shouldn’t.

Today, social inequalities, and the beliefs that lay behind them, can and do inform acts of violence that occur in our communities: violence against children. Violence against communities of faith. Violence against trans-identified persons. Violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls, and not brought to justice. Violence against women.

The 30th anniversary of Dec. 6th is monumental: December 6 was the event that shaped the future of the gender-based violence movement. Not only did this tragedy take so many lives in a day —but it echoed acts of domestic murder and abuse that are too-often present in our communities.

Services for women and children experiencing violence and awareness campaigns followed that tragic event. Thirty years later, and here are we. 

It’s important to talk about where we are 30 years later. We have more women accessing services than ever before: a positive achievement, considering the stigma of even talking about domestic or sexual violence in 1989 – no less, identifying as a survivor of violence at that time.  More, in Ontario, sincere commitment from some of those in political leadership has made a real difference in the rise of policies to address gender-based violence; to prevent it; and to create supports for those directly impacted by violence.

But 30 years later, and more women are accessing services than ever before:

  • In the last year, Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH) notes that 37 women died in Ontario as a result of intimate partner violence[3]
  • Every day in Ontario, women experiencing violence access emergency shelters
  • And every day in Ontario, women experiencing violence attempt to access emergency shelter and are turned away due to a shortage of shelter beds and safe, affordable housing

In one year, Ontario Sexual Assault Centres:

  • Took over 48,000 Crisis Line Calls
  • Supported over 16,000 individual survivors of sexual violence; and
  • Provided 3000 prevention education workshops to youth and others in the community[4]

Awareness of sexual violence is increasing. With the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in recent years, community-based sexual assault centres have seen a significant upswing in calls and requests for support. More survivors are speaking out about their experiences, or finding the courage to reach out for support. Aligning with our experiences, Statistics Canada[5] notes that sexual assault in Ontario saw a year over year increase of almost 19% between 2016 and 2018[6].

30 years later, and more women are accessing services than ever before. In this, the meaning behind December 6 remains as true as ever: gender-based violence is a reality in Ontario.

It’s important to say that gender-based violence is a non-partisan issue; one that anyone can get behind.

Last, it’s something we can’t address alone: Collaboration is key to ending gender-based violence. It requires focused government attention, in collaboration with community advocates, services, citizens and survivors.

Significant progess in addressing gender-based violence has been made over the years as a result of commitment, collaboration and strong leadership.


[1] Lalonde, D., Baker, L., & Nonomura, R. (2019). Thirty Years after the Montréal Massacre. Learning Network Issue 29. London, Ontario: Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. ISBN # 978-1-988412-36-8

[2] Lalonde, D., Baker, L., & Nonomura, R. (2019). Thirty Years after the Montréal Massacre. Learning Network Issue 29. London, Ontario: Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. ISBN # 978-1-988412-36-8

[3] Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH). Femicide in Ontario: #30YearsAndStillCounting. Online: https://www.oaith.ca/assets/files/Femicide%20Bios%202018-19%20Nov%2024%202019.pdf

[4] This information was compiled by Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres in 2019, with data provided by 23 of our member centres. If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, go to: www.sexualassaultsupport.ca/support.

[5] Statistics Canada. Incident-based crime statistics, by detailed violations, Canada, provinces, territories and Census Metropolitan Areas. Data release – July 22, 2019. Online: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3510017701&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.16&pickMembers%5B1%5D=2.16

[6] Statistics Canada notes that sexual assault in Ontario rose from 7,434 police-reported incidences in 2016 and 8,782 in 2017 to 10,634 in 2018 —a year over year increase of almost 19%.

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