Montreal·Photos

'It's a crisis ': Missing and murdered Indigenous women honoured in Montreal

Montreal's 11th Valentine's Day vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was filled with emotion as organizers decried the government's inaction even after the National Inquiry report described the situation as a "Canadian genocide."

Indoor vigil moves into the street as emotions pour out in drumming and singing

It was –18 C in Montreal Friday night, but that didn't deter vigil participants from demonstrating against what they say is a lack of government action. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Montreal's 11th Valentine's Day vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was filled with emotion as organizers decried the government's inaction even after the National Inquiry report described the situation as a "Canadian genocide."

What started as an indoor vigil with singing and tear-filled speeches about loved ones lost, poured into the freezing air as participants formed a human chain that blocked the busy intersection of St-Laurent Boulevard and Ontario Street for about 30 minutes Friday evening.

Horns were blaring, buses were stuck in traffic and one motorist aggressively inched ever closer to the crowd, but the drumming and singing continued as participants held their ground.

"The report brought a lot of social awareness about this crisis, even though it's been going on for a very long time," said Jessica Quijano, co-ordinator of Iskweu, an initiative by the Native Women's Shelter that is pursuing investigations into disappearances and suspicious deaths.

"However, there's been no action from the government to put the recommendations into place. And it's an urgent matter — it's a crisis — and we really can't wait."

This was the first Montreal vigil since the National Inquiry's final report was released last June. The report made nearly 250 recommendations to provincial and federal governments, including 21 for Quebec.

Measures as simple as wet shelters — shelters where intoxication is allowed — could considerably reduce the risks Indigenous women face, said Quijano who held a sign showing an image of Donna Paré.

Paré disappeared in Montreal in December 2018 and has yet to be found.

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      The inquiry report concludes that a genocide driven by the disproportionate level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls occurred in Canada through "state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies."

      Though there is no exact number due to a lack of official tracking, the Native Women's Association of Canada estimates more than 4,000 Aboriginal women and girls have gone missing or been murdered since 1980, including more than 120 since Justin Trudeau became prime minister.

      The annual vigil in Montreal is intended to create a space of reflection and celebration for the families of the victims and to raise awareness among the general public about "the structural nature of this gendered, racist and colonial violence," according to an Iskweu statement.

      Tess Lalonde was among those who spoke during the vigil, recalling her own testimony in Montreal during the inquiry. Her sister suffered violence and eventually ended her own life, Lalonde said. 

      Nowadays, there are more services available for those in need, Lalonde said.

      "There is so much help out there today," she said. "We have friendship centres. We have places where we can go and feel at home and feel recognized by our own people. And we don't need to go to that extreme."

      Montreal's first vigil since the release of the National Inquiry report focused on what organizers say is the government's continued inaction. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

      Others criticized police for failing to take disappearances seriously or fully investigate murders when bodies are found. They said it shouldn't matter where a woman comes from or how she lives her life, all investigations should be handled with the same care and thoroughness.

      As the vigil came to a close, dozens of people stayed in the Native Friendship Centre to talk. Some hugged. Others shed tears. Seeing so many come together, Lalonde said, shows there is "a lot of awareness."

      "And I'm glad because awareness of Indigenous lives is important," she said.

      "It's just getting more and more important because we're people too, with emotions. And the government, they just want to wipe us away. But I don't think they're going to be able to do that."

      with files from Matt D'Amours