Local residents will be joining others from across Canada on Dec. 6 to observe the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women as well as mark the 20th year since a gunman killed 14 women at l’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.
This year’s candlelight vigil is slated to take place at 2 p.m. at Knox United Church here, and all are welcome to attend, said one of its organizers, Peggy Loyie, executive director for the Rainy River District Victim Services Program.
The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women was first established by Parliament in 1991 following what has become known as “the Montreal Massacre”—when 25-year-old Marc Lepine entered l’Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989 armed with a semi-automatic rifle and hunting knife.
Lepine specifically targeted females and ultimately shot 28 people, killing 14 women before taking his own life.
Authorities later uncovered Lepine’s writings, in which he blamed women and feminists for ruining his life.
With the local vigil now entering its ninth year, Loyie explained that for her, first organizing the ceremony came from a personal reason—when one of her best friends’ daughter was murdered.
That same year, another young woman from this community also was murdered.
These two deaths in “our little corner of the world” was pivotal in how Loyie thought about violence against women, and her connection to the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
“You really want to do something because you don’t want people to forget,” she explained.
“It brought me to this understanding about what this event means—this isn’t just about these women in Montreal, this is about all women,” she stressed.
So along with remembering the 14 victims who died 20 years ago in Montreal, the vigil is meant to remember local women who have been victims of violence, Loyie said.
It also integrates other campaigns to stop violence against women, such as the National Native Women’s Association “Sisters in Spirit” campaign, which speaks about the missing aboriginal women in Canada.
“So now we incorporate everything,” Loyie noted. “We make it as encompassing of the whole community as we can—First Nation, mainstream, whatever.
“It’s not just about one [group]—everybody’s affected,” she reiterated.
One of the most poignant moments of the ceremony is the slide show presentation in memory of the women who have been murdered throughout the district.
“It gives people a chance to come and acknowledge the loss,” echoed Heidi Parr, the aboriginal healing and wellness co-ordinator at the United Native Friendship Centre who also is helping to organize the ceremony.
“And know that they haven’t been forgotten,” added Loyie. “As painful as it is for families, I think it’s important that we do what we can to not lose that memory of who they were.”
The presentation has, over the years, recognized six women from the district: Katrina Whitecrow, Deanna Daw, Melani Sutton, Nicole Veillieux, Ashley Smith, and Karla Desrosiers, but this year organizers expect more women to be included.
“We’ve had people come up at the end and say, ‘Oh, you should have so-and-so, and so-and-so,’” noted Loyie, calling it overwhelming to realize the number of women who have been murdered in Rainy River District alone.
“And the thing is, too, you hear of somebody dying, like in the paper, you see their obituary or whatever,” added Parr. “You don’t really know why they died until people start coming out and saying, ‘Oh yeah, she died of this.”
Organizers are making a call out for any more names of young girls or women who have died as a result of violence and whom families would like to acknowledge, said Parr.
Information needs to be submitted before Nov. 30 to Parr or Rochelle Bird at the United Native Friendship Centre (274-8541).
Local men also can show their support, and pledge to help stop violence against women, by signing their names on posters that will be up at various locations around the community as well as at the vigil.
The posters are part of the “I Am a Kind Man,” or “Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin,” program, and will be displayed as part of the Dec. 6 ceremony.
“It’s not only the people that have died, but how many people do you know that are experiencing the domestic violence or violence against women?” asked Parr, citing there are women throughout the district who live with the threat of violence every day.
“We have definitely been busier here than ever this year,” noted Donna Kroocmo, executive director for the Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope (formerly the Atikokan Crisis Centre).
“We’re going to be setting a new record this year, I know that,” she said. “And we’ve been over 100 percent occupancy for three months consecutively.
“We’ve never experienced that.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Kroocmo added. “A lot of people want to say it’s the economy, a lot of people want to make sense of the unsensible, and you can’t do it.
“All I know is the problem is not going away.”
Plans also are in the works to have trees planted at the Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope next spring in memory of women from the district who were murdered as a result of domestic violence.
Memorial plaques with the women’s name, age, where she was from, and date of death also will be set up by each tree, Kroocmo said.
“Someone from southern Ontario had said, ‘You know, your front yard is going to look like a cemetery?’ and I said, ‘Exactly,’” Kroocmo explained.
“I think it will be a powerful statement,” she added. “I think a lot of people think that it doesn’t happen here, and they’re wrong.”