British Columbia

Annual march commemorates missing, murdered women for 30th year

Supporters gathered in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for the 30th Women's Memorial March on Feb. 14.

1 in 5 Indigenous women reported being a victim of violence during early pandemic days, province says

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 on Sunday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

More than 100 supporters gathered in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Sunday for the 30th Women's Memorial March, which honours murdered and missing women and girls. 

The annual march began in 1992, when loved ones and supporters gathered on Feb. 14 in the Downtown Eastside to commemorate the life of a woman who was murdered on Powell Street.

Each year since, participants have gathered at Hastings and Main, where family members of missing and murdered women speak before marching through the streets. 

"This event is organized and led by women in the DTES because women — especially Indigenous women — face physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence on a daily basis," organizers wrote on the event's Facebook page. 

"The February 14th Women's Memorial March is an opportunity to come together to grieve the loss of our beloved sisters, remember the women who are still missing, and to dedicate ourselves to justice."

This year, due to COVID-19 safety measures, the event was streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, and participants were asked to respect physical distancing and wear masks. 

Thousands turned out for the Women's Memorial March in 2020 to honour the memory of all women from the Downtown Eastside who have died due to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual violence. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Call for action

Attendees called on the federal and provincial governments to take action on the 231 calls for justice made during the national MMIWG inquiry, including Marlene Jack, whose sister has been missing for three decades.

"There's been so many missing in Vancouver here and absolutely nothing was done to help," she said.

Jack's sister Doreen, her partner and their two sons went missing 31 years ago from northern B.C. 

"We have no justice for our families that are missing," Jack said. 

"We have no word on what happened to our families. It's been too many years. Our missing and murdered Indigenous women don't get justice at all. We all need to stand together."

Pandemic creates additional challenges

Both violence and COVID-19 have had a profound effect on the health of women in the DTES over the past year, according to organizer Myrna Cranmer. She estimates 50 women from the neighbourhood have died since March 2020 under violent circumstances or from COVID-19.

Vancouver police are unable to confirm the number of deaths.

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.

"In the first three months of the pandemic, one in five Indigenous women had reported being a victim of physical or psychological violence," the statement said. 

"Many Indigenous women and children have been at greater risk of violence while isolated at home with their abuser and cut off from their support network and resources."

The statement also acknowledged how systemic racism contributes to violence against Indigenous women.

"In order to improve the safety of Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender diverse peoples throughout the province, we must tackle the long-standing inequities in our systems and institutions that stop them from getting support when they are victimized at home, in their communities or at work."

With files from the Canadian Press and Eva Uguen-Csenge