A few weeks ago I received an invitation to attend the 2013 version of the Silent Witness Project April 24 at the West End Cultural Center.
The Silent Witness Project is an initiative designed to remind us of the impact of domestic homicides and family violence in our community. The project is also designed to create awareness and promote action.
My invitation came from a women I'd never met: a young woman who belongs to a club no one ever wants to join. It's called the survivors club, a group of people who've lost loved ones to the tragic circumstances of homicide. She was going to the memorial event to honour her sister Jennifer, who was killed by her boyfriend on June 20, 2002.
Her name was Pamela Creighton, and little did she know how deeply acquainted I was with her story. It just so happened I was one of the primary investigators involved in her sister's case. I had been to the crime scene in the early stages of the investigation, and some time later, sat in an interview room with her sister's killer.
I arrived at the WECC early to allow myself time to meet the event organizers and get oriented. When I walked into the theatre the first thing I noticed was the brilliant red silhouettes that encircled the stage. Each silhouette represented a women who had been murdered by an intimate partner. Because the women no long have a voice, the red silhouettes represent them as their "silent witnesses." It really is powerful messaging.
As I walked by each silhouette, I paused and read each victim's name. It was then I realized this event was going to be more meaningful to me than I imagined. There they were -- the names of several homicide victim's whose cases I had worked during my career in the Winnipeg Police Service homicide unit: Cory Dawn Lepp, sisters Corrine McKeown and Doreen Leclair, and Jennifer Creighton.
Once the official part of the memorial event started, surviving family members honoured their lost sisters and daughters by sharing the feelings they've experienced as a result of their devastating losses.
"We need to honour these women today and try to prevent other women from being represented here," said Deborah Scromeda, a mother who lost her daughter Shannon in 2008.
The heartbroken words of Tara Creighton, sister to Jennifer Creighton, ripped at the core of my being. It was clear 13 years hasn't been near time enough to dull the sense of pain and loss this woman has suffered.
"My sister's life amounted to 10 years (the sentence of her killer), how can this be?" she asked, expressing her frustration with soft Canadian justice; a justice system that appears to be blind to the plight of victims and overly concerned with the rights and needs of criminal offenders.
Her pointed advice to the jail bride who married her sister's killer: "Run away and don't ever look back, ever."
Next to the podium was Marjorie Lepp, a woman whose beautiful daughter, Cory Dawn Lepp, was taken from her on Easter Sunday in 2000. Cory's killer was an estranged boyfriend who murdered her in the presence of her young son. He then stashed her body under his grandmother's cottage in Winnipeg Beach. During the interrogation, we were able to break her killer down and extract a confession to the heinous crime. I will never forget the day we found Cory's body. It was one of those beautiful spring days in Manitoba. Brilliant, seemingly endless blue sky, warm temperatures and the sounds of songbirds filling the air. The town itself was eerily quiet, the cottagers still stuck in the city waiting for spring to transition into summer.
As I knelt and shone my flashlight into the crawl space, I was struck by the peaceful look I saw on Cory's beautiful face, a look that betrayed the reality of the brutally violent act that led to her fate. It's an image indelibly imprinted on my mind.
I suspect Marjorie Lepp is neither a poet or philosopher. Nonetheless, I was awestruck as she honestly and eloquently illustrated how deep the wounds of a senseless murder can cut those left to pick up the pieces -- an empty nest now filled with an orphaned child, the strain on a marriage, the loss of intimacy, the hardship, the loss of spirit and the loss of faith.
Her predominant thought during her struggle: "Shouldn't I feel guilty even smiling or laughing when my daughter is dead."
These were powerful words and I was grateful she shared them.
The event closed with the symbolic laying of a single red rose at the feet of each red silhouette.
After listening to the surviving family members share their pain and overwhelming sense of loss, thoughts of a completely inadequate justice system filled my mind. I share the same sense of disgust felt by Tara Creighton. "My sister's life amounted to 10 years, how could this be true?" The fact is, murder is one of the most under-punished crimes in Canadian justice.
That, I'm afraid, is the ugly truth.
Manitoba Domestic Violence Crisis Phone Line: toll free 1-877-977-0007
James Jewell retired from the Winnipeg Police Service after a 25-year career. Follow his blog at jgjewell.wordpress.com. He also runs The Police Insider at thepoliceinsider.com