In the immediate aftermath of the killings, and during the early anniversary years, there was enormous debate in the mainstream media regarding how to make sense of Lepine and his actions. The interpretation circulating widely in the media within hours of the killings constituted the murders as “incomprehensible” (in Lakeman 1992, 94), “one man’s act of madness” (in Nelson – McDermott 1991,125), in which “the victims just happened to be women” (in L. Schmidt, Kinesis, 7 February 1990). This is a reading that individualized and pathologized Lepine, and, if it worried about the women at all, refused them a gendered identification. A year later, on the first anniversary, this headline in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national English-language daily newspaper, illustrated the tenor of the moment: “Remembering: the act of a madman or a tragedy sparked by society’s pervasive sexism? That is still the question being asked today” (6 December 1990). By the anniversary date the following year, the weight of that question had begun to ease, with the declaration by the Canadian federal government that it would mark December sixth as a national day of remembrance—a day to remember not only the women murdered in Montreal but also all women harmed by men’s violence.10 Thus, December 1991 marked the opening of a discursive shift in memorialization, such that it has now become quite common to hear the Montreal massacre referred to as a sig – nifier for violence against women in Canada (although this is not without contestation—an issue to which I will return).
However, it needs to be remembered that this reading of the massacre was initiated by feminists during the urgency of contesting the individualizing of Lepine, noted above. In this reading, the massacre is produced not as an aberrant act but as “emblematic.” The term “emblematic” refers to the practice of producing a specific act (in this case, Lepine’s slaying of women) as standing for a range of other acts that are understood to be constituted in similar terms (e. g., battering, abuse, rape, and other such practices that are marked by beliefs in men’s rights to women’s bodies, spaces, conduct, invisibility, and so on). As a family of resemblances, these acts are assumed to share certain characteristics, hence the remembrance of one gestures towards the remembrance of all. The most dominant feature of the emblemization of the Montreal massacre, thus, has been to read it as standing for, or as symbolic of, mass systemic violence perpetrated by men against women.
In this framing, therefore, public remembrance of the massacre involves not only a call to remember the women murdered by Lepine on 6 December 1989 but also a call to remember all violence enacted in similarly gendered terms. One important dimension of emblemization is that it emphasizes an identity-based resemblance between the massacre and more daily violence against women—a memorial logic in which “men” are aligned with Lepine and “women” are aligned with his victims. This comment in The Globe and Mail, within days of the massacre, illustrates well the workings of this remembrance politic:
It does not matter that the man who decided to kill fourteen women—and he clearly did decide to do that—killed himself afterward; it is not of him that I am afraid. I am afraid of what he represents, of all the unspoken hatred, the pent – up anger that he expressed. Hatred and anger that is shared by every husband who beats his wife, every man who rapes his date, every father who abuses his child, and by many more who would not dare. (D. Bronson, Globe and Mail, 8 December 1989)
While a response that emphasizes the socio-political character of the murders has been absolutely necessary, and continues to be so, emblemization is clearly not unproblematic. It is to these problems that I now turn.