Women's Memorial March organizers call on the public to take a stand against violence

Thousands of people filled the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Thursday to take part in the 28th Women’s Memorial March, as organizers called on the public to do its part in helping to curb violence against women.

'We need changes today'

A trio of young women led the annual memorial march through the Downtown Eastside. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Thousands of people filled the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Thursday to take part in the 28th Women's Memorial March, as organizers called on the public to do its part in helping to curb violence against women. 

Leading the way were three young women who spread flower petals along the streets, followed by elders who carried out ceremonies along the route at specific sites where women and girls were either last seen alive or found murdered.

Rita Blind, longtime lead elder for the Vancouver Women's Memorial March, walks with a group of women to hold a ceremony at one of the stops along the way. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Sophie Merasty's sister, Rose, was killed in Blood Alley in 1991. She said she was grateful to the elders for stopping at the spot where her sister was found, adding that the person involved with her sister's death was never held accountable.

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart, because it meant so much to me that she be acknowledged all these years later," she said.

Many of those who participate in the annual march have lost a family member or friend in the neighbourhood and each year organizers publish a booklet with a list of names of women and girls who've died in the Downtown Eastside, gone missing from the area or been murdered.

This year, there are 75 new names on that list.

"This is a day of grieving, a day of mourning," said Myrna Cranmer, one of many march organizers and the person who adds names to the list. "Our women are being hunted."

Organizer Carol Martin spoke with reporters before the march. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

'We need changes today'

While the march acknowledges the deaths and disappearances of all women from the Downtown Eastside, it has been led by First Nations women from the beginning.

The march and its organizers are widely recognized for their grassroots work demanding justice for Indigenous women and girls who are disproportionately victims of violence and homicides.

Several women involved with the march and frontline work in the Downtown Eastside have played an active role in the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Some have been highly critical of it along the way.

"We need changes today," said organizer Juanita Desjarlais, who is a Sixties Scoop survivor and intergenerational survivor of the residential school system. Desjarlais shared some of her story of survival at the national inquiry when hearings were held in Vancouver in April 2018.

Organizers point out that while the inquiry does its work, women and girls continue to go missing, continue to be killed — not only in the Downtown Eastside but across the country.

Among the people at this year's march was Nicole Brown whose mother Frances Brown went missing in October 2017 after she was separated from a colleague with whom she was out mushroom picking, just north of Smithers.

Brown walked with the elders throughout march, carrying a framed photo of her Mom and a basket of red flowers. 

Nicole Brown walking behind the elders with a basket of roses and a framed photo of her Mom, Frances Brown. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

At the end of the march people once again stopped at the intersection of Main and Hastings. Organizer Carol Martin stood in the centre of the circle and thanked those who showed up to honour and commemorate the women from the Downtown Eastside whose lives were cut short by violence.

She also reminded people that everyone has a role in ending violence against women.