By Serge St-Arneault, Catholic Missionary Priest

I am the brother of Annie St-Arneault, one of the victims of the tragic shooting at the Polytechnic School in Montreal on the 6th of December 1989. This event has not only changed my life, but also it has been inscribed in the collective imagination of Quebecers in an indelible way, a bit like a collective traumatism.

Ruger Mini-14The debate about the arms control started after this tragedy. The young murderer had used a semi-automatic weapon, a Ruger Mini-14, to murder my sister Annie and 13 other women, under the pretext that these women were aspiring to take over professions historically attributed to men. He was furious against these feminists who were defying his male identity.

Rightly so, all women felt threatened and all men had become, by rebound, victims by developing a form of guilt by association. It is as if they were sharing unconsciously a ring of violence following the brutal acts carried out by one of them.

Just as Marc Lepine blamed the feminists, Alexandre Bissonnette, the presumed gunman at the Mosque in Quebec City in January 2017, had left hateful messages against the Muslims. Why Quebecers should feel guilty by association for an action committed by one of them, by unjustly killing honest Muslims, socially integrated in the Quebec society? No more should the Muslims feel guilty by association on account of the hatred spread by some Muslim extremists, who do not even live in Quebec. Another equally dangerous association is to identify all Catholic priests as pedophiles.

Think of it, men or women, we are all victims by association to the senseless violence perpetrated by individuals who abuse of their power, wherever they are, using firearms for the bloodiest; or by intimidation, fury, verbal aggressiveness, brutality, abuse, aggression, rape and abuse of confidence.

However, in spite of all, our personal and collective tragedies can become a springboard for us to uplift ourselves to something better as far as we are endeavouring to denounce all forms of violence and abuses, wherever they come from. Often, the victim carries the burden of guilt. The denunciation, that is to say the act of speaking, frees from a heavy burden hidden in the heart since too long. This is what we see with the movement about sexual harassment called #MeToo, or with the national enquiry concerning native women and girls who have disappeared or been murdered.

 I pray that men will learn to express their feelings openly and their sorrows when we commemorate the violence made against women. It is also my prayer that believers both Christian and Muslim, or any other religion, will no longer carry the burden of violent actions carried by a few, and that together we mobilize ourselves against all forms of fanaticism. Finally, closer to me, it is my prayer that priests will cease to suffer by association the justified condemnations meant only for the clerical pedophiles.

We have all been made fragile by our own wounds; bodily, emotionally and psychologically. My last prayer will be that we may find somewhere to relieve our deceitful guilt by association which poisons our personal and collective memories. While violence finds its root in the fears and the unspoken words, the way to peace is found in mutual trust.

The slaughter on December 6, 1989, as well as that of January 29, in Quebec City, have happened with the use of a firearm. Therefore, it seems relevant that we denounce all the different faces of violence, including Islamophobia.