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Annual Women’s Memorial March draws hundreds to downtown Vancouver

Click to play video: '32nd Women’s Memorial March commemorates lives lost in Downtown Eastside'
32nd Women’s Memorial March commemorates lives lost in Downtown Eastside
WATCH: Thousands converged on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Tuesday to commemorate the lives of Indigenous women and gender-diverse people lost in the DTES. But even as people expressed their grief and loss, organizers hoped for a greater presence from the political class. Julie Nolin reports – Feb 14, 2023

Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Vancouver Tuesday to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people at the 32nd annual Women’s Memorial March.

The march takes place every year on Feb. 14 to pay respects to those who have been lost to colonial violence and to call on elected officials to prevent further tragedy with meaningful action.

At the intersection of Main and Hastings streets, a sea of red-clad marchers, many holding signs with pictures of their lost loved ones, made their way through the Downtown Eastside, stopping at points where those missing and murdered were last seen or where their bodies were found.

Click to play video: '‘I don’t think we can wait any longer’: Women’s Memorial March organizer calls for politicians to get involved'
‘I don’t think we can wait any longer’: Women’s Memorial March organizer calls for politicians to get involved

“With over 5,000 women missing from upper Turtle Island, I don’t think we can wait any longer. We can’t wait any longer for the folks who can create change to come out here and be part of these movements,” March Committee member Grace Howse said.

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“I think if we’re allowed to continue to raise our voices, amplify our voices around the missing and murdered, what we end up doing is building these community pieces. But this isn’t a community, not until we have the politicians involved, until we have some change-makers involved in this process with us.”

Research done by the Native Women’s Association of Canada shows there could be as many as 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls nationwide.

Statistics Canada shows that from 2015-2020, the average homicide rate involving Indigenous victims was six times higher than the homicide rate involving non-Indigenous victims. The rate of sexual and physical violence against LGBTQ2+ Indigenous people is also significantly higher than against non-LGBTQ2+ Indigenous people. They were also about twice more likely to have “little or no confidence” in their local police service, Statistics Canada found.

“The march happens annually, every year. But that’s not progress, that’s us sticking to our movement,” Howse said.

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“I don’t feel hopeful we have been making big strides.”

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Over the course of the last year, the disappearances and deaths of Chelsea Poorman, Noelle ‘Ellie’ O’Soup and Tatyanna Harrison sent shockwaves across the Lower Mainland, with critics questioning if each case was properly investigated and how police prioritize Indigenous and vulnerable missing persons cases.

Family members of Poorman, Harrison and O’Soup have also publicly raised doubts about how potential tips are treated and how information is shared between policing jurisdictions. The families have held several joint vigils calling for police accountability.

Click to play video: 'Vigil held for Tatyanna Harrison, Chelsea Poorman and Noelle O’Soup'
Vigil held for Tatyanna Harrison, Chelsea Poorman and Noelle O’Soup

In 2019, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released a 1,200 page report with 231 calls to justice aimed at ending genocide. Ottawa has also earmarked $2.2 billion over five years and $160.9 million each year to help address the crisis.

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Howse said much more needs to be done, and called on local politicians in Metro Vancouver to take part in the march as a starting point.

“I think they would be able to hear the voices of the family members and just have that resonate with them,” she said.

“But, we don’t see them here participating in these movements, which is really disheartening.”

Click to play video: 'Wanted by police: New details on man found dead in Vancouver unit where Noelle O’Soup’s body found'
Wanted by police: New details on man found dead in Vancouver unit where Noelle O’Soup’s body found

with files from Sarah MacDonald and Elizabeth McSheffrey, Global News

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