MONTREAL – Jean-Francois Larivee still remembers Maryse Laganiere’s piercing blue eyes the day he met her at the Universite de Montreal in the mid-1980s.
Larivee and Laganiere went on to marry and find happiness – until it was brutally shattered on Dec. 6, 1989, when she and 13 other women were gunned down in a murderous rampage at the university’s Ecole polytechnique.
“Who knew she would lose her life there four years later?” Larivee said at an emotional ceremony Sunday at the Notre-Dame Basilica attended by about 1,000 people, including survivors of Marc Lepine’s hatred.
“I found the strength to survive, to love, through that situation.”
Larivee said he hopes Laganiere would be proud of the work that has been done over the past 20 years to toughen gun laws in Canada since the country’s worst mass shooting.
Donald Turcotte remembers waiting expectantly for more news when he found out that fateful evening about the tragedy.
His sister Annie was a student in metallurgy at the engineering school. She turned out to be one of Lepine’s victims after the feminist-hating gunman entered a classroom, ordered the men outside and began mowing down women.
“My parents lost their only daughter,” Turcotte told the hushed gathering.
“The same pain was lived out in 13 other families.”
Earlier in the day, white ribbons fluttered in the breeze and several hundred Montrealers formed a human chain as they remembered the 14 women.
Their names were read out at a downtown park and a minute of silence was held in their honour.
Many in the crowd cheered as speakers highlighted the importance of doing everything possible to eliminate violence against women.
“It’s a painful, a horrible moment, but at the same time it’s a moment for us to look back and see where we want to go now,” Alexa Conradi, president of Quebec’s main women’s group, said of the tragedy.
Ceremonies were expected to take place all across the country.
Thirteen other people, including nine women, were injured in Lepine’s 20-minute rampage.
While the massacre prompted a toughening of Canada’s gun control laws, Conservatives MPs, along with a handful of Liberals and New Democrats, voted in principle last month to kill the long-gun registry.
The move sparked an emotional response in Quebec as Montreal’s police chief, survivors of the massacre and a gun victim’s mother urged politicians to support the registry.
The head of the Coalition for Gun Control said Sunday the fight to preserve the registry will continue.
“We’re down, we’re not out,” Wendy Cukier said as she took part in the human-chain ceremony.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement it is important for Canadians to remain committed to eliminating violence against women.
“On Dec. 6, 1989, 14 bright, talented, young women were murdered at l’Ecole polytechnique de Montreal in one of the most tragic acts of violence against women in our country’s history,” Harper said.
“Their deaths galvanized the need to end violence against women in the hearts and minds of Canadians.
“Today, on Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, we should all take time to remember and reaffirm our commitment to continue working to protect the lives, dignity and equality of all women.”