Day of remembrance brings new reminder of violence against women
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The names of Indigenous women believed slain by an alleged serial killer in Winnipeg were recited alongside the names of 14 women killed in a mass shooting in Montreal three decades ago at a sombre ceremony marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.
“We mourn for Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and the woman that has yet to be identified, who lost their lives to unspeakable violence earlier this year,” Premier Heather Stefanson said during a ceremony at the Manitoba legislature early Tuesday.
Jeremy Anthony Michael Skibicki, 35, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Harris, 39, Myran, 26, Rebecca Contois, 24, and a fourth woman yet to be identified (given the temporary name Buffalo Woman by Indigenous elders).
“We also mourn Rebecca Contois, Heather Beardy, Doris Trout, Tessa Perry, Danielle Ballantyne, Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin and the women whose names and stories we will never know who were all lost to violence this year,” Stefanson said.
“We still have so much work to do to eliminate violence against women and girls, as the tragic events of this year have shown us.”
Tuesday was the 33rd anniversary of the massacre at École Polytechnique, where a man shot and killed 14 women, mostly students, and injured 13 others at the Montreal engineering school in a hate-filled, misogynistic attack.
The women killed in the mass shooting were: Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michele Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.
Elders and advocates who attended the Winnipeg ceremony spoke about the need to address the rampant violence, described as genocide by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and to support families in the Skibicki case whose loved ones have yet to be found.
“For the families… that are desperately searching… we remember them today and, hopefully, there will be resources for them to find their loved ones in this world,” said Sandra DeLaronde, an advocate who worked closely with impacted families during the national inquiry.
Winnipeg police believe the remains of Harris and Myran are at Prairie Green Landfill, but said conducting a successful search at the site north of the city is not possible. Contois’s partial remains were located during a police search of the Brady Road landfill earlier this year.
Family, community members and advocates have demanded a search be carried out to offer the women a final and dignified resting place.
Métis elder Billie Schibler said the Polytechnique anniversary stirs memories of the thousands of missing Indigenous women in North America.
“I am reminded of people that have lost their lives to violence,” Schibler said. “Our truth is that remembrance. Our reconciliation is the action that needs to be taken.”
DeLaronde said many hoped young women would not be fighting for their safety 33 years after Polytechnique, and more than 50 years after the murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas, but the struggle continues.
“Generation after generation of women have stood before governments quietly but steadfastly requesting and requiring change of governments, of lawmakers, and we’re here today,” she said.
Families Minister Rochelle Squires recognized 2022 as an “absolutely devastating year for violence against Indigenous women, girls, and (LGBTTQ+) individuals in Manitoba.”
The gathering Tuesday was not only about remembering the violence from 33 years ago, but about acknowledging the violence against women and girls in Manitoba that continues to happen today, she said.
Squires and the premier committed to creating communities where no one faces violence because of their gender.
On Tuesday, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization and Manitoba Keewatinook Okimakinak also called on governments to implement the national inquiry’s calls to justice.
“I call on all community members to stand against all forms of gender-based violence and work together to foster healthy and safer communities where women, girls and (LGBTTQ+) relatives can live in a world that empowers them when faced with violence and harmful behaviours,” MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said in a statement.
Settee was in Ottawa, with SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, to meet with federal representatives.
“On this national day of mourning, we remind our treaty partners of their responsibilities: to listen to the voices of First Nation women, girls, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people. Let’s work to create a province and country where everyone finally feels safe,” Daniels said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.