Montreal

Vigil pays tribute to 23-year-old Vanessa Primeau, who was found dead in burning garage

Dozens gathered in Hochelaga-Maisonneauve Wednesday night to pay tribute to 23-year-old Vanessa Primeau, who was found dead in a burning garage last month, and to call for better protection of sex workers.

'We can't even call the police,' says group calling for protection of marginalized women and sex workers

A vigil was held in the borough of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where 23-year-old Vanessa Primeau was found dead in a burning garage. Sandra Wesley, left, the director of Stella, Primeau's mother, Thérèse, and her brother Martin attended. (CBC)

Thérèse Primeau remembers her 23-year-old daughter as a young woman full of energy, who didn't see the bad in people.

"She loved everybody," Primeau said. "She loved everybody too much."

Primeau spoke at a vigil Wednesday night in the Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough to remember her daughter's life.

The body of Vanessa Primeau was found in a burning garage on Jan. 23 in Montreal's east end. Police say they consider the death suspicious and are investigating.

But Thérèse and her family say they don't believe her daughter's death was an accident, and want police to investigate it as a homicide.

"I really believe it was a murder," said Jonathan, one of Vanessa's brothers.

Thérèse described Vanessa as a vulnerable young woman, who struggled with mental health issues and substance use. She said police have so far only shared scant details of their investigation with the family.

'I'm still waiting for her call'

Friends and family placed flowers and teddy bears in the alleyway where 23-year-old Vanessa Primeau's body was found. (CBC)

A close friend of Vanessa's, Mélanie Bernard, was also there Wednesday. 

"I feel empty," Bernard said. "She used to call me every two days, and I'm still waiting for her call."

The vigil was organized by Stella, a sex worker advocacy group. They say sex workers experience more violence because they cannot turn to police when they are in danger, for fear of being arrested.

Vigil calls for better protection of sex workers

"For us, it was really important to take a moment to remember Vanessa, to grieve together and to make sure the community knows they are not alone," said Sandra Wesley, Stella's executive director.

Wesley said crimes against marginalized women who use drugs or work in the sex industry have a history of not being thoroughly investigated. Every day, she said, women experience violence and "we can't even call the police."

"We need to listen to sex workers," she said. "We need to send a strong message to every single violent person out there that violence against marginalized women is not OK."

The vigil ended in the alleyway where Primeau's body was found. (CBC)

Holding candles and flowers, a group of more than two dozen walked the neighbourhood where Vanessa was well known.

They ended the alleyway that runs parallel to Bourbonnière Avenue, at the burned-out garage where her body was discovered.

Friends held each other and wept. They placed flowers and stuffed animals at the foot of the garage.

with files from Simon Nakonechny

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