Hundreds of participants took part in a march around the Downtown Eastside in heavy rain to remember Vancouver's missing and murdered women.
Aboriginal elders, community leaders and family members of murdered and missing women led the 20th annual women’s memorial march today (February 14) from Main and Hastings to various sites around the neighbourhood. March organizers carried red roses to mark sites where women were murdered, and yellow roses for missing women.
According to Marlene George, the chair of women's memorial march organizing committee, 32 women from the Downtown Eastside are still missing.
“We don’t know what’s happening with these investigations”¦but every year we come together to remember these women,” said George.
In a press conference held before the march, organizers said that 10 women have been murdered or have gone missing from the Downtown Eastside in the last year.
They also noted that while they feel there is progress being made to address violence against women in the community, they said there are still many “acts of extreme violence” occurring.
Some of the women remembered today include Ashley Machiskinic, whose body was found in an alley behind the Regent hotel on September 15, 2010, and Carla Marie Smith, whose body was found in Burnaby on February 7, 2011.
Machisknic’s cousin, Mona Woodward, believes the young woman’s death was a catalyst for the Sister Watch program that was recently launched.
“I think it’s really sad that it had to happen, that someone has to die before there’s any changes,” Woodward told the Straight. “I’m very angry about that, I’m very frustrated - but at the same time, I’m really happy about the changes. So her death isn’t in vain.”
The march came just days after Vancouver police announced charges under the Sister Watch program. Under the initiative, police are meeting regularly with women from the Downtown Eastside.
Delannah Gail Bowen, who has been helping to organize the memorial march for seven years, said the root causes of violence against women need to be considered in order to address the issue.
“For this issue to be addressed, we have to go to the heart of the problem, and the heart of the problem is the poverty, the heart of the problem is not having our voice heard,” said Bowen.
“We have to look at the whole picture. Dealing with an issue when it gets to the crisis point means that it’ll always be at the crisis point, instead of going to the root of the issue,” she added.
Organizers also criticized the terms of reference for the provincial missing women commission of inquiry as too narrow.
“The terms of reference, between January 23rd 1997 and February 5, 2002, capture a point in time where we had a very prolific serial killer at play, however it does not capture the realities of many women that we know that have gone missing, and who were found murdered outside of that time frame,” said Angela MacDougall.
The provincial inquiry, led by former attorney general Wally Oppal, will examine how police investigated the disappearances of women from the Downtown Eastside between 1997 and 2002, when Robert Pickton was arrested.
The memorial march marked its 20th anniversary this year. Similar marches were held in at least 10 other cities across the country.