For the 30th consecutive year, the families of missing and murdered women, community members and supporters gathered in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to march in their honour.
The annual Women’s Memorial March has been held in since 1992, when community members gathered to mark the murder of a woman on Powell Street.
“Out of this sense of hopelessness and anger came an annual march on Valentine’s Day to express compassion, community and caring for all women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, unceded Coast Salish Territories,” according to organizers.
Organizers say Indigenous women continue to be disproportionately represented among missing and murdered women, with “minimal to no action” to address the systemic nature of gendered violence.
Organizer Juanita Desjarlais said the event takes on new significance this year, with women facing higher rates of violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the core issues remain the same, something she said is frustrating after 30 years of trying to bring attention to the issue.
“To be honest, it’s very heartbreaking,” she said, adding that recommendations from B.C. and national inquiries into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls have yet to be adequately implemented.
“When we look at other areas of Vancouver, say the West End for instance, and somebody goes missing from there we see 50 officers deployed, we see a thorough investigation happening.
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“And when a woman is murdered or somebody is murdered here in the Downtown Eastside or an Indigenous woman, there’s not a great response.”
Desjarlais said there was also a palpable feeling among the community that police across the region have been downplaying women’s experiences and reports of suspicious or threatening incidents in recent months.
Last week, RCMP faced backlash for their response to similar reports circulating on social media.
The event included a gathering at Main and Hastings streets, where family members speak in remembrance.
Marchers then proceeded through the neighbourhood and stopping to mark locations where women were last seen or were found.
Organizers say COVID-19 protocols are in effect, and people are expected to wear masks and practice physical distancing.