Survivor came to embrace feminism
Mo ments before Marc Lepine began his shooting rampage, Nathalie Provost, then a 23-year-old mechanical engineering student, tried to reason with him.
Lepine responded with a hail of bullets that killed six of her classmates and wounded Ms. Provost in the head and leg.
“At 23 years old, I was like a rocket. I always went in a straight line. I had no idea of the obstacles that lay ahead,” said Ms. Provost, now a 48-year-old mother of four who works as a senior manager for the provincial government.
“There’s a lot of tenderness for the young woman I was then, for her naivete.’’
Today, the fresh-faced students of 1989 are middle-aged women and men, with teenage children and careers. But for survivors of Canada’s worst mass shooting, the scars remain and the quest to understand continues.
It was about 5:10 p.m. on the last day of term when Lepine, a 25-yearold college dropout who been rejected by the Canadian Forces because of anti-social traits, began his rampage by walking into a secondfloor classroom where about 60 final-year mechanical engineering students, including Ms. Provost, were listening to a student presentation on heat transfer. Lepine had applied to the Polytechnique but didn’t get in because he lacked some of the prerequisites.
There were titters when the in- truder ordered the women and men to line up on opposite sides of the class. But the laughter died when he fired a warning shot from his Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle.
“You are all feminists!” Lepine told the nine women.
Ms. Provost spoke up.
“I said, ‘Listen, we are only women who are studying engineering.… We were only women in engineering who wanted to live a normal life,’ ” she recounted from her hospital bed two days after the tragedy.
At 23, Ms. Provost didn’t think of herself as a feminist. Feminism was something she associated with her mother’s generation, with historic struggles for “the right to vote, abortion and major causes.”
But today, she wholeheartedly identifies as a feminist.
“I’m much more aware that in my daily behaviour, I uphold feminist values,” she said.
Setbacks for women around the globe, like the millions of girls denied the right to an education, are a reminder that the struggle for gender equality is far from over, she said.
“What I know today, which I didn’t know 25 years ago, is how fragile all that is. We can’t take it for granted.”