Taking to the streets in sub-zero weather this December, some of Vanderhoof’s women and girls are reminding the community that female lives have been harmed or lost just for who they are.
On Dec. 6, Omineca Safe Home staff, Nechako Valley Secondary’s Me to We Club, and other community members commemorated the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women with a march through downtown Vanderhoof.
The day marks the 27th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where 14 women — 12 of which engineering students — were killed by a man claiming to fight feminism.
“People think that it’s due to unsafe behaviour, but there’s no situation that lends itself to violence,” said Lynne Stuart, agency coordinator of Omineca Safe Home. “You could be walking, camping, at school; there’s no guarantee to safety nor violence.
“These women were just in Engineering.”
In addition to the massacre, the march was also an opportunity to commemorate the missing and murdered women in the community, as well as across Canada and the world, Stuart said.
“We see women from all socio-economic places; it touches everybody,” she said. “These are women on the highway, white or native, young or old.
“They were just women, they were just there, and it just happened.”
According to ministry reports in 2009, there are over 1,000 physical or sexual assaults against women every week in B.C. and only 12 per cent of sexual assaults against women are reported to the police.
“If we can remove the stigma, more people can share their stories,” Stuart said. “We want people to know how many people are missing, and that these are women from our communities and have lived here.
“We also want our younger generation to be aware of the impacts of violence.”
Local stories and initiatives were shared by former Saik’uz First Nation chief Jackie Thomas, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, and Vanderhoof RCMP’s Sgt. Svend Nielsen at W. L. McLeod Elementary, where the march began and ended.
“We as a society still need to do a lot better to stop the cycle of violence and remember victims of violence,” Nielsen said. “It’s great to see the level of participation despite the temperature that day.
“The walk is important for remembering as abuse continues in homes and elsewhere.”
In Vanderhoof, those who are fleeing from violence are supported by the Omineca Safe Home and Victim Services. The committee for Violence Against Women and Relations organizes regular meet-ups among agencies to ensure that women in situations are helped, and the Interagency Case Assessment team provides safety planning for victims to have a safe location.
According to local RCMP statistics, this year’s number of violences against people within the community decreased from last year.
A recently added procedure allows a person who is victimized to seek a change of conditions in court. Gathered from an interview with Victim Services, the person’s provided information and the situation would be brought to the crown counsel to establish a case.
“It’s something that helps to improve the safety of the victims more than before, and is certainly a progression towards helping people that go through violence,” Nielsen said.
NVSS’s Grade 9 students Shelby McCook and Elizabeth Ebbott are two of the 18 students in the leadership group Me to We Club that participated in the march.
First time hearing about the annual march, McCook found it very relevant for the community, learning that people continues to hurt and that perpetrators may have a bad childhood, she said.
“You realize how lucky you are that your siblings aren’t missing,” McCook said. “And we always have a voice to speak out and not ignore violence.”
Ebbott said, “Hopefully that there’ll be more people participate next year to spread awareness.”