Sep. 18th, 2006

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In a front page article in Saturday's Globe and Mail, journalist Jan Wong made a remarkable argument about the motives for Kimveer Gill's murderous attack on Montréal's Dawson College.

What many outsiders don't realize is how alienating the decades-long linguistic struggle has been in the once-cosmopolitan city. It hasn't just taken a toll on long-time anglophones, it's affected immigrants, too. To be sure, the shootings in all three cases were carried out by mentally disturbed individuals. But what is also true is that in all three cases, the perpetrator was not pure laine, the argot for a 'pure' francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial 'purity' is repugnant. Not in Quebec.

In 1989, Marc Lepine shot and killed 14 women and wounded 13 others at the University of Montreal's École Polytechnique. He was a francophone, but in the eyes of pure laine Quebeckers, he was not one of them, and would never be. He was only half French-Canadian. He was also half Algerian, a Muslim, and his name was Gamil Gharbi. Seven years earlier, after the Canadian Armed Forces rejected his application under that name, he legally changed his name to Marc Lepine.

Valery Fabrikant, an engineering professor, was an immigrant from Russia. In 1992, he shot four colleagues and wounded one other at Concordia University's faculty of engineering after learning he would not be granted tenure.

This week's killer, Kimveer Gill, was, like Marc Lepine, Canadian-born and 25. On his blog, he described himself as of 'Indian' origin. (In their press conference, however, the police repeatedly referred to Mr. Gill as of 'Canadian' origin.)

It isn't known when Mr. Gill's family arrived in Canada. But he attended English elementary and high schools in Montreal. That means he wasn't a first-generation Canadian. Under the restrictions of Bill 101, the province's infamous language law, that means at least one of his parents must have been educated in English elementary or high schools in Canada.To be sure, Mr. Lepine hated women, Mr. Fabrikant hated his engineering colleagues and Mr. Gill hated everyone. But all of them had been marginalized, in a society that valued pure laine.


Perhaps Marc Lépine never was seen as a Québécois pure laine. Quite possibly he was the victim of discrimination. Insofar as his motives for the committing the infamous Montreal Massacre of 1989 are concerned, Lépine profoundly troubled childhood seems to be far more relevant.

Born Gamil Gharbi to an Algerian father and French-Canadian mother, the boy had a rough childhood. His mother had divorced his father over the issue of abuse, which had extended to the children. Beaten by his father, Rachid Liass Gharbi, for such minor problems as singing too loudly or failing to greet him in the morning, Lépine had learned to fear him.

"He was a brutal man," Monique Lépine told the court, "who did not seem to have any control over his emotions... It was always a physical gesture, a violent gesture, and always right in the face." Monique's sister confirmed these details to the judge, although Gharbi protested that they were not true. Nevertheless, the judge awarded custody to Monique. Still, young Gamil was not free of the man until he was 7 years old, and the exposure for that long to Gharbi's temper and beliefs had a strong influence. The boy so hated him that when he was 13, he changed his name to Marc Lépine.

Yet try as he might to distance himself, Lépine nevertheless adopted his father's views about women as servile and second-class (despite the fact that his mother was getting university degrees). They were not men's equals. Psychologically speaking, he was not built for a world in which women were getting educated, acquiring opportunities and becoming strong and independent. Rather than appreciate his mother's attempt to improve things for her children and herself, he saw only betrayal. In his mind, women had a specific place in society and they should stay there.


Valery Fabrikant, an instructor at Montréal's Concordia University at the times of his own killings, seems to have been an obsessive crank with serious personal boundary issues--as the Fabrikant FAQ at can.general points out, he was active on USENET for a decade--who seems to have suffered the misfortune of having tenured professors put their names on his work. One day, he went nuts and killed three people.

As for Kimveer Gill, as his blog made clear before its recent deletion, he was just another depressed young man living in the suburbs with his family convinced that the world owed him.

To sum up: Lépine attacked women because he hated women, Fabrikant attacked his colleagues because he hated his colleagues, Gill attacked Dawson College because he seems to have disliked its successful students, his near-peers. Lépine, a Francophone, killed mainly Francophones that December day at the Polytechnique; Fabrikant and Gill, Anglophones, went on their sprees in Anglophone institutions of higher education. All attacked people they simultaneously envied and resented.

Only the most enthusiastic of Wong's readers could possibly apply the Scots verdict of not proven to the theory that Québec's Allophones are so stressed by Québec's language politics that the more unstable among their number go about committing mass murder. Why invoke the fact of Lépine's Algerian father and Wong's unproven theorizing about discrimination when it's quite clear that was Lépine's father's exceptionally bad parenting that created a femicidal monster? How can Wong's theory accomodate the fact that Fabrikant's workplace shooting and Gill's school shooting--both, I need only mention, events which conform to the sadly emergent North American standard--were directed against Anglophones in Anglophone community institutions?

Maybe I'm missing something critical. Maybe, just maybe, Jan Wong is right. I'd be hugely surprised if this was the case, though. These three men murdered have been marginalized, yes, but I just can't see how Québec's language laws and Francophone prejudices contributed to their marginalization. Three spree killers in the space of two decades out of Québec population is high, but sometimes that's how the dice land.
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