'Should I be taking these pictures?': Photojournalist recalls aftermath of Polytechnique shooting

Christopher Morris, a Vancouver-based photographer, was 24 and relatively new to photojournalism when he arrived with his camera at the aftermath of Canada's deadliest mass shooting 30 years ago. 

On Dec. 6, 1989, a gunman walked into École Polytechnique de Montréal and killed 14 women — most of them young engineering students. Many more were injured during the anti-feminist rampage. Decades later, the memories are still hauntingly vivid for Morris. "There was a dead young woman sitting there in a chair, slumped over, and there was a police officer who was reaching up and pulling down a banner that said 'Joyeux Noel' [Merry Christmas]," he said. "I remember that scene so very vividly."

Moe Doiron/Reuters

Allen McInnis, another photographer on scene and a friend of Morris's, captured the moment in a photo that later became emblematic of the attack. 

Morris witnessed many such horrific scenes as he walked around the premises that night and, later, the emotional distress at the women's funerals. 

"A number of times, I asked myself 'Should I be here? Should I be taking these pictures? Is this the right thing to do?" he told Gloria Macarenko, the host of CBC's On The Coast.

"At the time, and now 30 years later, I still feel very strongly that taking those pictures was absolutely the right thing to do."

Photos: The Canadian Press / Design: CBC

The impact of photos 

Despite the emotional toll of taking and seeing the images, Morris says he believes they are necessary to capture the truth of the tragedy and prompt change. 

"You can draw a straight line between some of the pictures that were made that day that remind people of that tragedy and the fact that we have more restrictive gun laws here in Canada than elsewhere," he said. 

"People were shocked and appalled at what happened and the photos were part of that."

One of the things Morris remembers most vividly from the scene was the reaction of families who lost their loved ones in the shooting. 

Victor Fraile/Power Sport Images (Submitted by Christopher Morris

"It never ceases to amaze me how dignified people are during times of incredible stress," he said. 

"It's incredible how, when somebody has lost someone close, they still just say 'Yes, I want to tell their story. I don't want it to be meaningless.'"

Thirty years later, that's what Morris hangs on to as Canada marks the anniversary of the massacre. 

"We need to try to make the world a better place and remembering things like this, when we were perhaps at our worst, helps us to be our best," he said.