Dozens of people gathered in downtown Calgary on Sunday to remember a Calgary case worker who was killed on the job and to demand better protection for frontline workers in Alberta.
Friends, family and coworkers of Onwu all called for more support for case workers at the rally, asking the government to take action.
“Please do not ignore us. The abuse of staff within various agencies needs to stop now because our lives matter and we will no longer tolerate the bullying and the abuse,” said Rebecca Opoku, a social worker and friend of Onwu.
A spokesperson for CUPE Alberta said part of the problem is the lack of support for vulnerable youth who are in care.
“We haven’t paid attention to this sector for whatever reason. In our society, they don’t want to focus on vulnerable people and we don’t want to focus on people who need the most intensive kind of help,” said Rory Gill, the president of CUPE Alberta.
Gill said case social workers have felt abandoned for a long time.
It’s concerning that so many people who attended the rally refuse to speak out about the abuse they have seen on the job because of fear of losing their jobs, he said.
“They believe their employment is in jeopardy if they talk about it and that, to me, is symptomatic of what is happening in social services and it’s symptomatic of our attitude towards vulnerable people and the people who take care of them,” Gill said.
“I hope we get to a point where they can talk openly about their feelings and the loss they’ve had, but they can’t do it today.”
Friends at the rally asked those in attendance to reach out to their MLAs to bring the issue to the surface.
Opoku said Onwu’s life was taken so that others can have a voice.
“She doesn’t have a voice anymore, but we do,” Opoku said. “It’s not OK for us to die in our line of work.”
The man charged in connection with Onwu’s death is scheduled to appear in court again in December.