Vancouver Women's Memorial March Draws Hundreds
By Janine Solanki
Vancouver - On February 14th, over 500 people - friends and families, women and men, young people and elders - gave flowers, respect and dignity to the 72 missing and dead women of the Downtown Eastside (DTES).
The Women’s Memorial March started off at the Carnegie Community Center, where family members and friends of victims spoke to the crowded hall about their daughters, sisters, nieces and friends, promising that we will not forget them as the police and the government of Canada have. They spoke of women in Vancouver’s DTES, women on the Highway of Tears (Highway 16) in Northern BC, and the women whose remains were found on the farm of Robert Pickton, who now stands trial in the murders of several missing women. All these women faced beatings, rape and murder due to the inequality imposed on them as women in Canada. This is compounded by hundreds of years of continued colonial policies against Indigenous women, who make up the majority of the victims of violence. Canada’s institutionalized racism was outlined by prominent women from the Indigenous community, such as Mary Uslick (Shuswap/Sto:lo) and Kelly White (Squamish First Nation), along with Phil Fontaine (national chief of the Assembly of First Nations). Lillian George, president of the United Native Nations, pointed out the city of Vancouver’s priorities, noting that they “…can raise $8 million to save the trees in Stanley Park yet do nothing to raise the level of poverty that people are facing on the Downtown Eastside…” Another speaker, a friend of a victim and former drug addict and prostitute was corrected when she outlined how there was only 26 detox beds available to help women in the DTES. Now there are only 6.
After forming a full circle in the intersection of Main and Hastings for an opening ceremony, elders from the Indigenous community led the solemn march down Hastings and through Gastown, stopping along the way as the elders honoured the sites where women had been killed with a rose, an offering of tobacco, prayers and a cleansing ceremony for healing. More speakers addressed the crowd when they arrived at the Vancouver Police Department, exposing the corruption of the police who ignore and fail to investigate missing women’s cases. After a healing circle at Oppenheimer Park, the march finished with many gathering together for a feast at the Japanese Language Center.
This march served to remember these missing and murdered women. But we have to prove that we don’t forget them and go beyond recognizing the tragedy of the life and death they were subjected to. We must take action against the Government of Canada’s recent $11 million cuts to childcare in BC and the $5 million to Status of Women Canada! We must demand funding for affordable housing, detox centers, childcare facilities and healthcare, and not war and occupation in Afghanistan where Canada is also trampling on women’s rights. We must fight against police brutality and neglect, and for missing women’s cases to be investigated seriously, with the books opened to the public with all findings! We must remember the women who are gone by ensuring that those still on the streets are safe and can claim their dignity.
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