Nathalie Provost

A survivor speaks

Montreal — From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Nathalie Provost, 43, was shot by Marc Lépine in 1989 after he entered a classroom at the École Polytechnique and separated the men and women. Ms. Provost courageously tried to reason with the gunman. She took four bullets anyway.

Ms. Provost, who graduated from the Polytechnique and became a mechanical engineer, works as a director of strategic planning in the Quebec civil service. She and her common-law husband, another Polytechnique graduate, have four children.

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You are one of the rare people who can say they looked Marc Lépine in the eye on Dec. 6, 1989. What do you remember?

He wasn't someone who wanted to relate. Marc Lépine was in an altered state. You have to be, to do something like he did; basic human nature doesn't let you. The man I saw wasn't someone who was focused on his acts, and he didn't want to relate. The eyes were dark.

Over the years, he's been described as a monster, a madman and a woman-hater. You suggest we need to see beyond his acts.

That man was first a little baby, a child, a little boy who played ball, who tried to be loved by people around him, he was all kinds of things before he did what he did. I have four children and I try to love them with all my heart, but I know perfectly well that I don't always control them. The horror was in the act he committed, which is unpardonable, horrible and abominable. But behind the act was a human being.

When Marc Lépine separated the men and women and screamed that he hated feminists, you responded that you were not feminists, just women studying engineering. The remark generated a lot of debate. Would you say the same thing today?

In 1989, feminism to me was a movement of women fighting to make sure women had the same rights as men. But as a woman, I never felt I needed to struggle; I believed doors were wide open for me. I used to see feminism as a conflict between men and women, but it's not that for me now. ... It's making sure women have an equal chance.

Are there reasons you decided to speak out on the 20th anniversary?

One reason is to talk about our compassion as a society. We don't know really what to do with young people who are suffering and hurting. Marc Lépine didn't have all the help and support he may have needed at different stages in his life.

You have also said that the threat to Canada's long-gun registry motivated you to speak out today.

I'm stunned that they want to modify the firearms registry. A firearm is a dangerous object. We register cars and need a licence for them. I don't see why it's scandalous to ask people to register and get a licence for firearms.

How do you feel about being a survivor?

I don't know why I survived. I know it's not because I avoided the bullets and hid - I was struck by four bullets. I was unbelievably lucky, because it's a miracle that the bullet in my forehead didn't kill me.... It took me a year of asking, 'Why, why, why?' Then at one point I said: 'Because.' What is the point of knowing? We don't know.

What does the anniversary mean to you?

The 20th anniversary is a way to take stock. Not just socially - about engineering, firearms, the situation of women - but personally. I feel profoundly spoiled by life. Despite the Polytechnique, I profoundly love life and I profoundly love mankind. I have faith in humanity despite everything. And if I can offer people a little hope, all the better: You can overcome difficult things.

Follow on Twitter: @iperitz

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