Toronto

Church forgives those who removed red dresses hung to honour missing, murdered women

An Anglican church in Toronto is not giving up on attempts to draw attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and is forgiving people who removed a display of red dresses recently hung on the outside of the church. 

'I honestly don't believe anything nefarious happened,' says church's facility manager

A photo taken a year ago of the front of the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto, when the church hung red dresses outside to honour murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. (Chris Ambidge/Facebook)

An Anglican church in Toronto is not giving up on attempts to draw attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and is forgiving people who removed a display of red dresses recently hung on the outside of the church. 

Earlier this month, an official hung five red dresses and a pair of red pants on the front of the Church of the Redeemer, at the corner of Bloor Street West and Avenue Road. The display was intended to raise awareness of, and to show solidarity with, Indigenous women and girls killed in Canada in recent decades.

Kiefer Shields, facility manager for the Church of the Redeemer, said the bright clothing was part of the RedDress project in which red dresses are installed in public spaces to remind people of violence facing Indigenous women and girls.

Shields said the red dresses and pants were hung outside the church on May 31, but every single piece of clothing was gone by June 6.

In most cases, not even the clothes hangers were left. The clothing was supposed to hang outside until June 16, when a church committee will hold what it calls "Indigenous Sunday."

A poster placed on the church a year ago to explain its display of red dresses. (Chris Ambidge/Facebook)

Shields said he believes the red dresses and pants may have been "moved" by people who use the church's daily hot meal drop-in program known as the Common Table.

Official doesn't think 'targeted vandalism' at work

Program users are largely homeless people and others who may be housed but who do not have enough money for food. The program offers a hot breakfast and lunch, counselling, legal and nursing services. Some people who use the program have mental health issues.

"I honestly don't believe anything nefarious happened," he said on Tuesday.

"We run a large drop-in program and things are sort of prone to moving around. Sometimes, it's folks who actually need the clothing. Sometimes, it might be folks who have mental health issues and will move things. I think that's most likely the explanation, rather than some sort of targeted vandalism."

Initially, Shields said he was annoyed, but he did not think it warranted a complaint to police. He didn't think the clothing was removed because people disagreed with the statement being made by the church.

Now, however, he has come up with a solution. He is hanging up a couple of red dresses at the front of the church on Sundays, starting when the church opens at 8 a.m. and ending at about 1 p.m., for two Sundays in a row. The display will end on June 16.

Last year, the church hung a few red dresses outside for a few days, but only one or two of them went missing. A few churches on Bloor Street took part in the project. (Chris Ambidge/Facebook))

"I understand why this happens and it's just something that we have to work around," he added.

Dresses disappeared same week MMIWG report delivered

Last year, the church also hung a few red dresses on the outside of the church for a few days, but only one or two red dresses went missing. A few churches on Bloor Street took part in the project.

This year, the red clothing disappeared the same week that the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry delivered its final report to the federal government. 

The 1,200-page report includes many recommendations to government, the police and the larger Canadian public to help address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls.

Thousands of Indigenous women and girls who were murdered or disappeared across the country in recent decades are victims of a "Canadian genocide," the report concluded.

Dresses 'evoke a presence through the marking of absence'

Métis artist Jamie Black started the RedDress project in Winnipeg in 2010.

On her website, Black says she collected red dresses and hung them in public spaces to draw "attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence."

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