This coming Friday, December 6, marks the 30th anniversary of the deadliest mass murder in Canadian history. That is, if you don’t count attacks on indigenous peoples. They were, after all, just Indians.
Marc Lepine would probably say the same about his rampage at L´Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. They were, after all, just women. Feminists, studying engineering so that they could steal men’s jobs.
Fourteen women died. Fourteen more victims -- ten women and four men -- were injured by his bullets. The 15thdeath was Lepine, when he shot himself.
And there’s no question about his intentions. He left a three-page suicide note, plus letters to two friends, explaining his hostility towards women in general, towards women who wanted to be engineers in particular.
I won’t attempt to analyze his motives. I do want to trace his actions, and some people’s responses.
Saving their own skins
It all seemed so innocent at first. Lepine went to the school registrar’s office. He had been in before, at least seven times. L’Ecole Polytechnique is an engineering school affiliated with the University of Montreal.
He sat down. He waited. A staff member asked if she could help him. He shrugged her off, and wandered through the halls for about 20 minutes, clutching a plastic bag containing something which turned out to be a semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife.
He went upstairs to a classroom that had about 60 people in it. Nine of them were women.
Lepine pulled out his gun. He ordered the men to line up against one wall, the women against the opposite wall. Students thought he was joking, until he fired a shot into the ceiling.
Then he told the men to get out. He was only interested in killing the women.
And the men, to their eternal shame, did as they were told.
Not one of them refused to obey his orders. Not one of them crossed the floor, to stand with the women. Not one of them took the risk of forcing Lepine to kill men as well as women.
The cost of ideals
After the crime, newspaper columnist Mark Steyn accused those male students of a “culture of passivity.” He said they “abandoned their female classmates to their fate -- an act of abdication unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout history…”
Maybe Steyn exaggerated a little. Men have not always come to women’s defence.
Canada gives lip service to equality of sexes -- even if we don’t actually pay women as much as men most of the time. We insist women have the same rights to vote, to speech, to safety, as men. We have lofty ideals. But when it came down to living up to those ideals, the men in that class chose to save themselves.
I like to think that I would at least have remonstrated with Lepine. Refused to leave. Maybe even defied his authority.
But would I really? I might just as likely have hidden under a desk. Begged for mercy.
Not that appealing for mercy would have done much good.
When a wounded Maryse Leclair pleaded for help, Lepine finished her off with his hunting knife.
Someone must go first
Still, I suspect that if even one male student had crossed the floor to stand in solidarity with the nine women in that first classroom, that action might have made a difference. Because if one person had that courage, others might have joined him. I’ve seen it happen, over and over.
That man would have been a hero.
A hero is not a hero all the time. Unlike comic books, heroes don’t go around doing heroic deeds daily. Most of the time, heroes are just ordinary people going about their ordinary business.
People become heroes when they rise to an occasion. When they challenge evil, protect the innocent, make themselves vulnerable for others. When they rush into a burning forest in Australia to rescue a koala cub whose fur is on fire. When they dive into a freezing lake to get a driver out of a sinking car. When they blow the whistle on corporate corruption.
They don’t plan to be heroes. They don’t fit a standard psychological profile; nor do they have hero-DNA in their genes. They’re not driven by economic theory or studies of history.
Heroes may well have religious convictions, but I doubt if anyone starts a heroic deed by thinking “Jesus was the only begotten Son of God…”
Heroes simply do what they have to, when it happens.
Tragically, there were no heroes in that classroom in L’Ecole Polytechnique 30 years ago.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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My column about Don Cherry was two weeks ago, but I want to include one last comment about it, because it’s so flattering. Gretta Vosper described me as, “The UCC's most beloved sage, Jim Taylor….”
Then there was last week’s column, in which I tried to put riots and protests in Hong Kong, Chile, Iran, etc., into a broader context of a power struggle.
Tom Watson commented, “I think the operative word is power. Patriarchies like power and people who hold power never give it up easily. You're right in predicting that the Hong Kong revolt will be suppressed, because not to means a diminishing of power. What mystifies me is why citizens who have a much greater say in who governs them than do those in Hong Kong allow the leaders to act with abandon, and even support them in spite of bald-faces lies about what they're doing.”
Cliff Boldt noted that “many First Nations are matriarchal. Something to ponder. I am reading Jody Wilson-Raybould’s book, From Where I Stand, and she comes from a matriarchal background and influence. This goes a long way to explaining how little Justin Trudeau understood her or her position on issues.”
Although I had requested that you don’t quote dictionary definitions at me, Steve Roney wrote, “You needlessly confuse the reader by using idiosyncratic vocabulary. What the dictionary terms ‘autocracy,’ you are renaming ‘patriarchy’; even though patriarchy has a different established meaning, having to do with sex and sex roles.
“And you are wrong to say there is no division of power in Iran. There is. There is in Saudi Arabia also. In Iran, the Supreme Leader, a religious figure, shares authority with the President, a secular leader. In Saudi Arabia, the royal family shares authority with the religious authorities. It is not so different from the interplay of the three branches in the American system. These countries are accordingly significantly less autocratic than, for example, Communist regimes or military ones.”
Laurna Tallman sent a brief comment about the column itself, but devoted most of her letter to my poetry page, https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry: “It’s a very long time since I have attempted the type of literary criticism that you invite. I see that my tendency to pare away extraneous verbiage could go further still. The question is whether I will please the people in my small circle of readers or the people who may at some time be attracted to the essence of my perceptions in the style that pleases me. I love many styles of writing in poetry as in prose. I love many styles of painting but the iconographic style Lauren Harris developed has a special attraction for me. Stripping forms -- whether in visual or in verbal arts -- to their essences is one powerful way of conveying one’s perceptions and realizations.
“Thank you for sharing your poetry. You have given me a delightful Sunday morning and you have inspired me to write again from the heart. “
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/
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ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.