Marchers gather for annual B.C. event to honour missing, murdered women

Charlene Brunelle wipes her eye as she listens to people speak about loved ones they have lost, before the annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. The march is held to honour missing and murdered women and girls from the community with stops along the way to commemorate where women were last seen or found. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl DyckCharlene Brunelle wipes her eye as she listens to people speak about loved ones they have lost, before the annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. The march is held to honour missing and murdered women and girls from the community with stops along the way to commemorate where women were last seen or found. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
A woman raises her hands to the west before the annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Hundreds gathered in the snow for the 30th annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, B.C. to pay tribute to women who have gone missing and or been murdered in the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl DyckA woman raises her hands to the west before the annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Hundreds gathered in the snow for the 30th annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, B.C. to pay tribute to women who have gone missing and or been murdered in the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Despite the hurt and emotional trauma of reliving her sister and niece’s death, Pauline Johnson said she has yet to miss a year of the Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, now in its 30th year.

Johnson was one of the hundreds of people who gathered in the snow for the annual march, which is held to honour and remember women lost to violence, abuse, poverty and systemic racism.

Johnson’s sister Rose Marie Johnson died in 1980, and her death has been linked to a man who was convicted of another death in a separate incident.

Charlene Kerr, Johnson’s niece, was stabbed to death in the Lamplighter Hotel in the 1980s.

“There should be some change. It’s disheartening that there isn’t,” she said, adding that there needs to be more awareness of the violence Indigenous women and men face.

Johnson said little has been done to properly investigate the disproportionate amount of Indigenous women that go missing or are killed in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

“Because we’re First Nation, we’re meaningless to society. That gets to be tiresome,” she said.

Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted in 2007 on six counts of second-degree murder but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing from the Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver police were criticized for not taking the cases seriously because many of the missing were sex workers or drug users.

Myrna Cranmer, one of the event’s co-organizers, said both violence and COVID-19 have had a profound affect on the health of women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood this past year.

She estimates 50 women from the neighbourhood have died under violent circumstances or from COVID-19 since last March.

“Some of the names that come up every year, it just really hurts my heart,” Cranmer said. “I’ve known these women, I’ve worked with them and it’s just very sad.”

Vancouver police couldn’t confirm the number, saying it would not be possible to accurately search for cases by gender or trace where someone from the neighbourhood may have died, such as a hospital or a different part of the city.

The case of Tonya Hyer, who was found beaten to death in a hotel operated by non-profit dedicated to ending violence against women on Jan. 19, 2020, has stuck with Cranmer.

“They still don’t know who killed Tonya,” Cranmer said. “We need to remember their names, even if it’s only for that one day. The women in the Downtown Eastside are ignored to death. No one remembers them.”

Vancouver police spokesman Sgt. Steve Addison said Hyer’s death is still an active investigation and no arrests have been made.

Due to COVID-19, Sunday’s march was livestreamed to allow people to stay home if they were sick or did not feel comfortable attending a large event.

Provincial government officials issued a joint statement Sunday recognizing the 30th anniversary of the march and highlighting the challenges faced by Indigenous women, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The officials, including Premier John Horgan and Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin, noted that one in five Indigenous women had reported being a victim of physical or psychological violence across Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They promised to continue working with Indigenous communities to end gender-based violence in B.C.

ALSO READ: Pandemic exacerbating issues at core of Moose Hide Campaign to end violence

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

MMIWG

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Rachel Dunstan Muller. (Submitted photo)
Ladysmith storyteller Rachel Dunstan Muller launches pair of podcasts

Hintertales: Stories from the Margins of History and Sticks and Stones and Stories are available now

(Black Press file photo)
Multiple vehicle collision at Grouhel Road stalls highway traffic

Two emergency services helicopters responded to the collision

Chemainus Festival of Murals Society president Tom Andrews displays the Chemainus Dollars $10 bill with the same scene on it as The Native Heritage mural. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Chemainus Dollars revert to being strictly souvenirs on April 5

Unique currency turns collectible under the Festival of Murals Society

Ladysmith Secondary School has reported an additional case of COVID-19 exposure. (File photo)
Additional COVID-19 exposure reported at Ladysmith Secondary School

The exposure dates are Feb. 8-10 and Feb. 16-18

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health minister Adrian Dix wore pink shirts to showcase this year’s motto: “Lift each other up.” (Twitter/PinkShirtDay)
PHOTOS: B.C. celebs take a stand against bullying on Pink Shirt Day

‘We need to let young people know they are not alone and they can reach out to others for help’

Justin Morissette is still recovering from the injuries sustained in the altercation. He is not yet able to walk without assistance. (Justin Morissette, Twitter)
B.C. man suing city and police over violent altercation with anti-LGBTQ preacher

Justin Morissette argues police knew the threat the preacher posed, and failed to keep the peace

Mowi Canada West salmon farm in B.C. waters. Conservative MPs have backed an industry call for further discussions on the timeline for closing Discovery Island farms. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada)
Conservative MPs back B.C. salmon farmers’ call for transparent discussions

Farm owners requested consultations, more time to leave Discovery Islands

Jack Barnes, who was Cowichan Valley Capitals property from May 2020 until last week, scores a goal for the Penticton Vees during the 2019-20 BCHL season. (Brennan Phillips/Black Press)
COVID-crunched BCHL facing trade deadline dilemma with its 20-year-olds

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

UBC Okanagan students are among the most food insecure in Canada, according to a new study by UBC.
(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
UBC Okanagan students among most food insecure in Canada

42.3 per cent either can’t properly feed themselves, or are worried they will soon run out of money

A Nanaimo RCMP vehicle in the Woodgrove Centre parking lot. (News Bulletin file photo)
Woman groped by stranger in mall parking lot in Nanaimo

Incident happened near bus loop Saturday, Feb. 20, at about 4:45 p.m.

A 19-year-old man is in police custody following a recent violent robbery and assault in Comox . (File photo)
Arrest made in violent robbery and assault of Comox gas station employee

19-year-old man in police custody after incident where woman was putting things in her car

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Expanding social circles fuelling North Island COVID-19 spike

Comox Valley COVID spike the result of ‘a series of multiple social gatherings’

Most Read