As MLA for Tuxedo and Manitoba’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, I have the pleasure of meeting many extraordinary Manitobans from all walks of life.
Over the last year one of these Manitobans, Karen Wiebe, has taught me a lot about the needs of victims in our criminal justice system and has shown me how education can reduce crime in our communities.
Karen’s son, TJ, was senselessly murdered in 2003. A graduate from Winnipeg Technical College and an aspiring underwater welder, TJ was a talented young man with a bright future ahead. However, by choosing to use and deal drugs, he became acquainted with the wrong crowd, including people capable of taking his life.
As the mother of two children, I cannot imagine the unbearable pain of losing a child. It is therefore amazing to see Karen derive strength from such a tragedy. In the nearly 15 years since TJ’s death, she has worked tirelessly with her late husband Floyd to establish TJ’s Gift Foundation, which educates our kids about the dangers of drug use, and to stay active in the Manitoba Organization for Victims Assistance (MOVA), which helps families of homicide victims cope with grief.
This year I had the opportunity to see the value of both organizations first-hand. On May 18, I attended the TJ’s Gift Foundation annual fundraising gala, which helps support anti-drug programming available for all five Winnipeg school divisions as well as conferences and workshops for rural Manitobans.
Personal responsibility and accountability is central to the entire mission of TJ’s Gift Foundation. What they teach our youth is simple and resonant: choices matter, and making the wrong choices can have grave and tragic consequences. At a time when the use of illicit opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil has markedly increased in our communities, this message is more important than ever.
On May 29, I was also honoured to attend MOVA’s Annual Walk in Remembrance of Victims of Homicide. The event, which involved victims’ families sharing their stories before releasing balloons as a memorial to their loved ones, is indicative of what MOVA does regularly to help those living with the tragic consequences of homicide.
As the executive director for MOVA, Karen helps facilitate sharing sessions where victims’ families can share the grief and inner turmoil they feel about the loss of their loved ones. This therapeutic method has helped many people find solace in community support. It has helped victims’ families build up the courage to let go of those balloons every year, and by extension to let go of some of their grief.
I want to extend my sincere thanks for all Karen does for victims and for youth in Manitoba. Our province is a better place because of her work.