Community’s compassion shelters family every step of painful journey
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/05/2019 (1190 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Outside the courthouse, in the light of a cool spring day, George and Melinda Wood stood facing the quiet half-circle of reporters. Around them were gathered dozens of family and supporters, a halo of love as united here, at the end of the journey, as it had been just over a week ago when the trial started.
It hadn’t been a long trial, which is a kind of blessing. The trial of the man accused of Christine Wood’s murder was expected to last up to three weeks; it took just nine days. The jury reached a unanimous verdict in less than two hours Wednesday.
As they sat waiting to hear the accused’s fate, George and Melinda clutched their hands together tightly. When the jury foreman rose to make the pronouncement — guilty, second-degree murder — those interlaced hands shot upward in unison, moved by the same surge of raw feeling that sent cries of relief ringing through the room.
At the front of the public gallery, Melinda’s mother, Gladys, held up a spray of green flowers. They were so bright they drew eyes to them, beaming in vivid contrast to the subdued hues of the court. The colour of life. The colour of hope.
Later, speaking to reporters, George began to read his statement about what the verdict meant to him and his wife of 35 years. It was a wonderful day, he began, and his gentle voice trembled with emotion: “Our daughter, Christine, got justice today,” he continued. “That’s all we all were hoping for.”
It is an imperfect justice, George knows, because it cannot bring back his daughter. It cannot right the wrong done to Christine, and all those who loved her. It cannot mend the hearts that were broken that night in August 2016, when her life was taken.
These are some of the many things that even a just verdict cannot hope to offer.
But there are different kinds of justice, and they are found in different places.
The one that judges and juries can make only completes part of the picture. The other kind is nurtured not by evidence or verdicts, but by awareness, compassion; it is a justice served whenever a community lifts up those who have been harmed.
So in his statement, George thanked all the people across Canada who had supported them. There are many: in the years since Christine has been gone, it seemed as if everyone who crossed paths with the Wood family came to love them. By their unfaltering advocacy for their daughter, they lifted Christine’s legacy to wider public attention.
Consider how, after he testified in court, the farmer who found Christine’s body joined George and Melinda for lunch, then stayed in court to show support for them. Or how, on Wednesday morning, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth met the family privately, to offer his condolences before the jury began deliberating.
There have been countless stories like that on this journey. Those who walked alongside the Woods saw it at every step: Christine was loved beyond measure. She still is, because that bond is something violence cannot sever, and while court heard painful testimony during the last week, the light of that love shone so much brighter.
If striving towards a more perfect justice means not only counting who is responsible, but who is remembered, then their efforts were not in vain. They once scoured the city, hoping to bring their daughter home safely; when that could not happen, they drew together a community of people who helped ensure she would not be forgotten.
After the verdict, Christine’s family and supporters gathered at Candace House, a refuge for those touched by violence that’s a short walk from the courthouse. Every seat in the place was taken. Staff put on coffee next to plates of moose stew and fried pickerel from the north that one supporter had brought with her.
For over an hour, they shared stories, looked at photos, or just held each other. Over the low hum of conversation, occasional bursts of laughter rang out at one end of the room or another. Even the air seemed to grow lighter, as if cleared of an invisible mist that had weighed it down: Christine’s memory can fly free, now.
This part of George and Melinda’s journey is almost over. Now they can go home, back to the comfort of the forest and lakes that surround Bunibonibee Cree Nation. Back to the grave where they laid their daughter to rest, back to their three sons and the grandchildren they cherish, back to the community that rallied around them.
When they go, they will take part of Winnipeg’s heart with them. They showed us what the true face of justice can look like: a justice that is rooted in community, one that is dignified and tenacious and loving. That’s a gift they brought to this city, where their own was taken from them. It will not soon be forgotten.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.