Faculty union's mock search party 'insult' to families of missing, murdered, advocate says
UMFA changed their plans to hold a mock search party for Premier Heather Stefanson Tuesday evening
A stunt by striking University of Manitoba faculty members to bring attention to their cause has drawn criticism from advocates and families of missing and murdered women.
Sandra DeLaronde received messages on Monday showing her a poster from the University of Manitoba Faculty Assoctiation, advertising a mock search party for Premier Heather Stefanson, planned for Tuesday evening in her Tuxedo riding.
"My initial reaction was, I can't believe it," said DeLaronde, long-time advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
"It really was an insult to the families that are currently searching for missing loved ones … It really minimizes their struggle."
The union has been trying to meet with Stefanson, whose government they say is interfering in negotiations with university administrators.
The poster, printed in black letters on a red background, resembles others often seen taped to street lamps and bulletin boards seeking information on missing Indigenous women and girls, said DeLaronde.
Originally, the poster featured a picture of Stefanson, with the word "missing" over her head.
"Join the search party for Heather Stefanson," the poster read. "UMFA members have been trying to meet with Premier Stefanson since she was sworn in, but haven't been able to find her!" the poster reads, in part.
"We're starting to worry about her now that it's getting cold out, so we organized a search party in her Tuxedo riding to try and get her to come out and meet with us."
Family members who reached out to DeLaronde felt upset and concerned that the union didn't seem to understand what it meant to search for a loved one, she said.
After receiving criticism over the original poster, the union released an amended poster that changed the red background to yellow, and the word over Stefanson's picture was changed to "hello???" The rest of the wording on the poster remained unchanged.
Those changes did not address the concerns of DeLaronde and the families she spoke to, and later on Tuesday the union issued a new poster advertising a march through the Tuxedo riding, and removing any mention of a search party.
"We apologize for the initial language and design of a flyer for our event this evening," union president Orvie Dingwall said in an email statement.
"UMFA received feedback from our members and community members and immediately made changes to the flyer to address the concerns brought forward."
The union will make changes to its internal processes to make sure this does not happen again, Dingwall said in the statement.
Despite the changes made to the poster, DeLaronde says the original poster shouldn't have been made in the first place.
"These are academics, these are people that are responsible for creating change for future generations, and they cannot even be aware of the world around them, in our world, in Winnipeg, of the situation of missing and murdered Indigenous women."
Mark Libin, one of the faculty members participating in the march Tuesday evening, said they changed the theme of the event because they realized it was offensive to families of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
He said they wanted to speak to Stefanson about lifting the government mandate that has set limits on wage increases with employees at public institutions.
"She keeps dodging us, she walks by our pickets every day at the Leg, so we're looking for here here in her riding. We believe she might be hibernating," he said.
The march through Stefanson's riding started at 5:30 p.m. from the main gates of Assiniboine Park at Corydon Avenue and Park Boulevard North.
With files from Alana Cole and Cameron MacLean