On September 13, 2006, at 12:30 UTC - 0400, Kimveer Gill, a Canadian of Indian and Sikh origin, parks his car outside of Dawson College, an anglophone CÉGEP (post-secondary school between high school and university in Québec's educational system), in Montréal, Canada. Eleven minutes later, Gill fires a series of rounds outside Dawson's entrance. He continues shooting until three minutes later, police officers who were at the scene for an unrelated incident take notice. He walks into the cafeteria and shoots randomly at students. At 12:48 UTC - 0400, police wound him in the arm, and he suicides with a shot to the head.
Besides Gill, the only other death so far (September 16, 2006) has been Anastasia De Sousa. Gill wounded nineteen other students, of which eight are in critical condition and two in coma.
Under Canadian law, Gill owned the firearms legally. He briefly had some military training under the Canadian Forces. The police and the media have placed his online presence under heavy scrutiny, as Gill was a frequent user of VampireFreaks.com, an online community dedicated to "gothic industrial culture", and he posted several pictures of himself posing with firearms. In his online journal, he speaks about his frustration with school, with work, and with the world; he expresses his predilection for Postal and other violent videogames, and generally glorifies violence and mayhem.
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So much for the facts. I am not a news reporter, but I'll put some links at the bottom of this writeup to articles you can read yourself. Wikipedia has particularly good relevant pages, and I am not going to try to compete with the hundreds of people who have put effort into making those Wikipedia articles. I am only writing this writeup because this is extremely close to home and uncomfortable.
Dawson is at the heart of Montréal. It's right next to the Alexis Nihon shopping centre and next to the historical Montréal Forum ("Pepsi Forum" my foot!). To get to Dawson, you take the metro and get off at the Atwater station. It's just a short walk from there.
I didn't go to this school, but I have many friends who did and at least one ex-girlfriend who went there, Talia, of SuicideGirls fame (the writeup, not the website). Her brother is still attending, and although he wasn't present when this was happening, many of his friends were. Talia says that his friends have many horror stories about crawling through blood-stained floors. She herself knews people who used to go to school with Gill.
I think I was only inside twice, once accompanying a friend of mine who studied there, and another time just randomly wandering around Montréal. I remember the beauty of the place (especially as compared to the ugly Burnside basement/dungeon in McGill where I spent most of my undergraduate career). I cannot imagine blood covering its floors.
Today is Mexican independence day, as I'm writing this. I'm supposed to be celebrating and forgetting what happened in Dawson, in Montréal, in my beloved Québec and Canada. It's difficult, because I don't feel like celebrating much. I did drag myself last night to the official celebration where the local governors and minicipal presidents take the Mexican flag, wave it around, and give the traditional cry of "¡Viva México!" I saluted the flag, and I sung the national anthem, something I haven't done in years, at least since 2000, when I left high school. I've never thought much of the Mexican national anthem, a military march glorifying the death of Mexican soldiers who died defending the country from foreign enemies, an irrelevant relic of nineteenth century European romanticism.
Nevertheless, I saluted the flag, and I sung the anthem yesterday. I could have gone out with friends and continue the celebrations, the drinking, and the debauchery, but I was tired, and I felt that I had already completed my civic — not patriotic — duty towards my fellow Mexicans. I sung the anthem for the women who sell vegetables every day by the market, for the compatriots who are forced to leave the country seeking better conditions, for the ones who are struggling to fill their heads with elementary education and fill their bellies with scraps of food at the same time.
Dawson and memories still lodged in my head, I went home to rest. I had an uneasy night.
I praise Canadians for one particular reaction they've had. Gill was an Indo-Canadian of Sikh origin, a genuine towelhead, if I may so use the term as a mockery of those who igorantly employ it for Arabs. Although this is mentioned, nobody has thus far attempted to draw any connection between his ethnic origin and his actions. Gill was as Canadian as any other, and he wasn't even associated in any obvious way with Dawson. Other more ingenious explanations will be necessary.
Well. Almost nobody. This isn't the first time this sort of thing happens in Montréal. In 1989, a wacko killed 14 women at the École Polytechnique, because they were studying engineering, whom he thought had been chosen instead of him only on account of being women. In 1991, Valery Fabrikant shot four other Concordia professors whom he accused of unethical academic behaviour (an investigation later partially corroborated his accusations). In all instances, the crazed gunmen have been immigrants.
It's just hard to not notice this pattern. Québec's society has always had these sorts of ethnic tensions, between French and English speakers, as well as between the pure laine, the "pure wool" French descendants, and everyone else. Three shootings in Canada probably doesn't say much. But three out of three in Québec, and all perpetrated by immigrants, well, then one begins to wonder. Although, there is nothing obviously ethnic about the motives behind any of these killings, we must ask: what is wrong with the Quebecker society?
In the grand scheme of global tragedies, two persons dead and nineteen wounded isn't a big deal. And in an even grander scale of things, the sun's going to eventually engulf us all and everyone and everything will be toast. Life's a bitch and then you die.
This is exactly how Gill thought, or something very much like it.
A recurring theme in ethics is if it's moral or not to care a bit more about your nearest and dearest than about anyone else. Dawson is very close to my nearest and dearest, and I do care about it. Personally, I believe I'm entitled to my feelings. Yes, it's true that I haven't invested much emotional labour for the dying children of Africa lately, but dangit, I do care about them. I care a lot about my fellow human. I kindly request a moment to dedicate a bit more emotion to Dawson, to its students, and to my friends. Tomorrow I will dedicate myself again to work in applied mathematics and promote free culture and open knowledge to the eventual benefit of those now proverbial African children. One must tend his own garden first. You begin saving the world by saving yourself and your neighbours. Don't think like Kimveer Gill did.
Massacre isn't measured by numbers. It's measured by its senselessness. What happened at Dawson was most definitely a massacre.
I love you Montréal, Québec, and Canada. Peace be with you.
All material last accessed on September 16, 2006.
Relevant Wikipedia pages:
Some Globe and Mail news articles: