Engineering students and faculty honour École Polytechnique victims at 14 Not Forgotten ceremony

Applied science students and faculty members held a memorial yesterday honoring the victims of the École Polytechnique mass shooting. 

On December 6, 1989, a gunman opened fire in École Polytechnique, a technical university in Montreal. He shot and killed 14 women and injured 10 more. Twelve of the women killed were engineering students, one was a nursing student and one was an employee of the university. The shooter's motive was hatred of women.

The tragedy is the second largest mass shooting in Canadian history, and Canada declared December 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action of Violence Against Women in 1991. 

The Engineering Undergraduate Society and Faculty of Applied Science held their annual memorial service in the Engineering Student Centre to honour the 14 women lost.

Engineering student Aleksandra Vujicic opened the event, acknowledging that women still struggle to feel respected in engineering spaces.

“I’m proud to say … that I’m a woman studying engineering, almost as an act of defiance against those who believe women don’t belong in these spaces. I’m eternally grateful for the women who came before me,” she said.  

She was joined by civil engineering professor and Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Faculty of Applied Science, Dr. Sheryl Staub-French. 

Staub-French spoke about persisting reality of gender-based discrimination, and called on the community to continue to discuss violence against women. 

“Some days it feels like things haven’t changed that much in 33 years,” she said. 

Students in the Engineering Student Centre courtyard bearing flowers and candles.
Students in the Engineering Student Centre courtyard bearing flowers and candles. Tatiana Zhandarmova / The Ubyssey

Two guest speakers spoke at the memorial, offering their experiences and grief. 

The first to speak was Alexandra O’Donaghey, who works for the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society.

She spoke about generational trauma, being the first person in her family to not have attended residential school, and the importance in “breaking the cycles of abuse.” 

O’Donaghey concluded by singing Women’s Warrior Song, a song which originated in the Líl̓wat Nation to honour women’s lives lost. 

The second speaker was UBC alumna Monrit Chatha who joined the event via Zoom. She studied engineering at UBC from 2012–2017 and shared her experiences of dealing with unconcious bias and imposter syndrome as a woman studying and working in an area dominated by men. 

“We as women in engineering have this unconscious bias about this field, that this is not needed for us and we do not belong …. when you’re communicating,  believe that you belong there.” 

Following the speakers, attendees followed a group of engineering students to the courtyard to the permanent memorial honoring the massacre bearing flowers and candles. 

Vujicic read aloud the names of each woman who lost their life on December 6, and a student placed an accompanying rose on the memorial. The ceremony concluded with a minute of silence for the lives lost.

"I hope that I can support my classmates and future colleagues and eventually [make progress on] belonging as women in engineering, and exceeding all the expectations of those before us," Vujicic said.