B.C. community remembers massacre victims

More than 100 people attended a candlelight vigil in Vernon on Wednesday night to remember the murders a decade earlier of nine members of the Gakhal and Saran families.

More than 100 people attended a candlelight vigil in Vernon on Wednesday night to remember the murders a decade earlier of nine members of the Gakhal and Saran families.

In April 1996, Mark Chahal walked into his former home and fired 28 shots, killing his estranged wife, Rajwar Gakhal, and eight of her relatives. Chahal then went to a nearby motel, where he shot himself.

Gakhal had filed formal complaints with the RCMP, saying she felt threatened by her estranged husband. But the RCMP admitted those complaints fell between the cracks and nothing was done.

As a result, the massacre became a pivotal point in how police and authorities in British Columbia deal with violence against women.

In his investigation of the tragedy, Justice Josiah Wood of the B.C. Supreme Court made many recommendations to improve safety for domestic violence victims.

Vernon RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Henry Proce said there were two key policy changes on how police deal with violence against women.

"Even if the victim was hostile, even if the victim did not want to proceed with the charges, the matter was still referred to Crown counsel. That power was taken away from the victim," said Proce.

"The message has certainly gotten out that if there is an assault or violence in a relationship, someone is going to get charged."

Policy needs to become law: women's advocate

But Debbie Hamilton of the Women's Transition House in Vernon said that doesn't always happen because of an overburdened justice system.

She said the province needs to follow the leads of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which have turned policy into law.

"It needs to be legislated and it needs to be followed and practised by every person that is involved."

In Hamilton's experience, very few spousal assaults end up in court or with a conviction – and that still needs to change, she said.