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Safe house dream could soon become a reality

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Wilma Derksen’s life was forever changed when she learned that her daughter Candace had been discovered frozen to death near her family’s home 28 years ago.

Candace, 13, disappeared on Nov. 30, 1984. Her body was discovered Jan. 17, 1985 tied up and frozen to death in a shed near the home she shared with her mother and father Cliff.

The case remained unsolved until 2007 when Mark Edward Grant was charged with her murder. He was found guilty on May 26, 2011 and sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years.

"To this day I’m still introduced as the parent of a murdered child, and my identity is connected to Candace," Derksen said.  

"In some ways, over the years I’ve met all the parents of murdered children. We do band together in kind of a bond of trauma and like experience."

Derksen, who lives in Fort Richmond, is hoping to make it easier for the victims of serious crime to deal with the trauma.

Last month she announced plans to establish Candace House, a safe house that will provide crime victims a place to go for rest and support.

Derksen has spent the past two decades working on behalf of crime victims. It was those efforts that made her realize the need for a gathering place for the victims of crime.

"Victims need a safe place where they feel sheltered, but most institutions are also connected with offenders and victims need to have a place that is their territory," she said.

"They need a place where information happens, that has resources, Internet, and where networking can happen."

Derksen said the idea for Candace House came to her long before the trial for her daughter’s killer, but it wasn’t until the trial that it really began to take shape.

"When we went through our trial, it really confirmed a need," she said, adding she and her family spent much of their daughter’s trial being "vagabonds in the courtroom."

"We were given good care, but it would have been nice to have a place to go that had wireless, and a TV, and things the courtroom couldn’t provide. And somewhere away from the public eye
The Dersksens hope to open Candace House next year and hope to find space for the non-profit facility near the Winnipeg Law Courts. Victims would be able to gather to receive support from other victims, counselling and volunteer legal advice.

"We don’t know at this point what it will become. It’s a place that will evolve as time goes," Derksen said.

Derksen’s vision for the facility started to become a reality in February when she was approached by a friend, Bernie Bowman, who offered to start fundraising for the cause.

"She took it and has created the reality of our dream," Derksen said.

Bowman, whose family was the victim of a serious crime, said ensuring Candace House becomes a reality is a cause that’s close to her heart.

"I found what was missing in the system is practical help. Wilma has spoken about having things in the house like exercise and art therapy. These are concrete things that aren’t being made available to (victims) that we want to incorporate into the facility," Bowman said.

"In talking (to Wilma) about her dream for the house I suggested we get things going with a fundraiser, because it’s public awareness as well."

Bowman organized the Candace Derksen Family Fun Day, the first fundraiser for Candace House, which was held on July 7 at the Fort Garry Community Centre and featured children’s entertainment, games, a barbecue dinner and performance by Sagkeeng’s Finest, who donated their evening’s earnings back to the cause.

"The gesture was incredibly supportive and affirming again that even young people are getting the vision for (the house) and ready to put the energy into it," Derksen said.

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