On the evening of December 6, 2019, the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston, Ont. joined with 13 other Canadian universities in a nationwide vigil to commemorate the 14 women murdered on that date in 1989 at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal.
This particular evening, the Kingston skyline displayed a single beam of light shining from the RMC Parade Square as part of a ceremony broadcasted live by Radio-Canada and by CBC. The beam was one of 14 shining from universities across Canada, synchronized with similar beams shining over Montreal from the top of Mount Royal.
Other universities taking part in the vigil include Dalhousie University, University of Laval, University of Québec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, University of Québec in Rimouski, University of Sherbrooke, University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Ottawa, University of Manitoba, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, and University of Moncton.
The nationwide vigil, part of Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, commemorated the 14 women who were murdered because they were women. The vigil provided an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the fact that women in Canada and around the world continue to face disproportionate levels of violence each and every day.
Each year on December 6, flags at RMC are flown at half-mast from sunrise to sunset. For weeks preceding the date, displays are set up at locations across the campus. The displays are often reminiscent of the military tradition of leaving a table empty at formal dinners as a way to honour fallen comrades.
“The women of École Polytechnique died because they were women,” said Dr. Erika Behrisch Elce, an associate professor with RMC’s English, Culture and Communication Department, who plays a lead role in organizing Polytechnique memorials at the college. “Each beam of light is a symbol of the strength we find in standing with all Canada’s post-secondary institutions in defence of ideas and intellectual growth and against misogyny, sexism, and hate. The coordination of the lights, which correspond to each woman who died that day, reminds us of them, but also that we need to work together to end gender-based violence.”
The half-hour vigil at RMC brought together students, staff, faculty, and members of the community. Two poems were recited and fourteen officer cadets in uniform came forward individually to read the name of each victim. The ceremony concluded with a minute of silence and reflection.