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Some 25 years on, soul-searching after Polytechnique shooting

Watch above: Montrealers remember the victims and survivors of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre. Global’s Billy Shields has more.

MONTREAL – When Michele Thibodeau-Deguire attended the Ecole Polytechnique, she was the only woman engineering student there.

By 1989, she had become a communications officer and was proud of the fact that more young women had matriculated to the engineering department.

Her heart sank on Dec. 6, 1989, when a school shooting tore through the campus at the foot of Mont-Royal.

“At one time the police came and said [the victims] ‘were just girls.'” she said.
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That such a massacre could occur on a university campus in Canada launched a nationwide gun-control campaign.

But the fact that all of shooter Marc Lepine’s targets were women began a process of soul-searching that continues to the present.

At the end of the night, he killed 14 women – 13 students and an employee – before shooting and killing himself.

“All these years later, it’s the first time I get the sense we’re ready to admit it, 25 years now, I think we can finally say it’s a political crime, a crime against the advancement of women,” said Alexa Conradi, the president of the Quebec Women’s Federation.

Both Conradi and Thibodeau-Deguire attended ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre.

At the school, mourners lit candles and put white roses next to a plaque with the victims name inscribed on it.

At Place du 6 Decembre 1989 – named for the date of the shooting – hundreds set off on foot for a vigil on Mont-Royal.

Some participants say they’ve seen positive developments in the aftermath of the tragedy.

A scholarship has been started, the White Rose Campaign, that awards $30,000 annually to a disadvantaged woman with a passion for engineering.

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And there are many more women engineers studying at the Polytechnique than before – a full quarter of the department and more than 2,000 students.

“We are large enough now,” smiled Thibodeau-Deguire, “that we could fill up the Place-des-Arts with women engineers!”