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PEO remembers the murders of 14 women at l’École Polytechnique de Montreal on December 6, 1989

On this National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women in Canada, we pause to remember and reflect on the murders of 14 young women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal on December 6, 1989. They died because they were women and almost all were engineering students.

I still remember that day and the phone call my wife received from her distraught sister who was then an engineering student. It took me some time to fathom the unimaginable – that these young women were targeted simply because they were women about to embark for the most part on a career in engineering, a career I myself was just starting. The notion of a university campus as a place of safety in a chaotic world was shaken. And almost 20 years later, the day became especially poignant as my own daughter entered university as an engineering student. As a university professor, and now as PEO president, this day is still emotional for me.

It is unfortunate that our profession has had challenges over the years with issues of gender equity and inclusion. But as former PEO President Catherine Karakatsanis, P.Eng said, we need to “acknowledge that these cultural challenges exist and talk about them openly and candidly.” As we work towards making our places of study and work, within our engineering profession, more safe and inclusive for women, we can help take the necessary steps to address the larger societal issues around gender-based violence.

There is hope – we are making progress. Over the past couple of decades, the number of young women in Ontario applying to engineering programs has almost tripled, and women now make up 21 per cent of the province’s engineering undergrads. And PEO is supporting Engineers Canada’s “30 by 30” initiative whose goal is to raise the percentage of newly licensed engineers who are women to 30 per cent by the year 2030.

I was also pleased to attend the recent Ontario Professional Engineers Awards (OPEA) gala, at which three senior female engineers were honoured with some of the profession’s top honours: Catherine Karakatsanis, P.Eng. (Gold Medal), Samantha Espley, P.Eng. (Engineering Medal—Management) and Margaret Kende, P.Eng. (Citizenship Award). In accepting their awards, all three remarked on the hurdles they had to overcome to succeed as female engineers and urged the profession to do more to make the path easier for the next generation.

I’m proud to say that many in our profession are working for such change.

But today, we pause to mourn the loss of those 14 young women who were murdered on December 6, 1989. And we reflect to consider what actions we all can take to create a society safer for all women.

Bob Dony, PhD, P.Eng., FIEE, FEC
PEO President