Fathers, mothers and grandparents who mourn homicide victims don't often stage public marches.
This Saturday was an exception.
Under stone-grey skies, about 30 Winnipeggers pulled on stark white T-shirts, picked up placards and solemnly walked down Broadway from The Forks.
By the time they reached the legislative building's steps, the sun had come out.
It was the first time Manitoba families of homicide victims gathered in public, and it represents a higher profile for the group that sponsored the march.
Up to now, the Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance has kept a low profile as a non-profit group that supports the families of homicide victims.
Winnipeg was named the homicide capital of Canada by Statistics Canada in 2012, based on a national survey of police-reported crime data for 2011. Winnipeg reported 39 homicides that year. The number jumped to 41 the following June with the discovery of two victims of alleged serial killer Shawn Cameron Lamb. The report was already published, however, and their statuses could not be changed from missing to murdered.
Across Canada last week, various events were organized in different provinces by similar groups to mark the eighth annual National Victim of Crimes Awareness Week.
"This is the first year we've done this. Our sole mandate is to support the victims of homicide. It's the victims of homicide helping victims of homicide." Karen Wiebe said.
Karen is the mother of TJ Wiebe.
Twenty-year-old Trevor "TJ" Wiebe was killed in January 2003. The young man was stabbed in the throat, injected with a syringe, strangled and left to die in a remote, snow-covered field.
Dominic Urichen, 29, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, obstruct justice and contempt of court and sentenced to 131/2 years in prison. To the outrage of Wiebe's parents, Urichen was released this winter after serving two-thirds of his sentence, despite risks to the public cited by the National Parole Board.
"All of us here have stories similar to that... We live with that," Wiebe said.
Vincent Li was sitting next to a sleeping Tim Mclean aboard a Greyhound bus in Manitoba on July 30, 2008 when he suddenly started stabbing the young carnival worker. As the bus stopped and horrified passengers fled, Li cut up McLean's body. Li told a mental-health advocate he heard the voice of God telling him McLean was an alien he needed to destroy. Li was found not criminally responsible and was sent to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. Last year he was granted the privilege of escorted trips off the hospital grounds.
Tim's mother Carol de Delley said yesterday she took part in the march because attending the annual mental-health review hearings every year wasn't enough.
Now active in lobbies that push for laws that are tougher on crime, de Delley said the missing piece is public understanding.
"I don't think the public is aware of what we face as victims. There needs to be more focus on the victims and less focus on the offenders," deDelley said,
Winnipeg Police Service Inspector John Halley took his turn on the steps of the legislature along with Wiebe and de Delley.
He was there to remember Sophia Schmidt, the nine-month-old girl who was killed by her stepmother 17 years ago. The death prompted an inquest into the province's child-welfare system, which didn't produce recommendations for more than seven years.
Halley was one of the two officers first on the scene that January day in 1996.
"It was my first murder scene. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I remember the apartment, the way it smelled. I remember the bedroom... I'll never forget that little girl," the police inspector said.
The father, convicted of criminal negligence, and the stepmother, convicted of manslaughter, both left Manitoba following early release from prison, Halley said.
"We need to focus more on the victims of crime and help them," said Halley, now an inspector for community relations.
That unit is now paying house calls to ensure families are linked up to resources that might help them cope better, he said.