Women's Memorial March

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The Women’s Memorial March is an annual event held on Valentine's Day that originated in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, to call attention to missing and murdered women in the district. As of 2009, the Missing Women’s Task Force, a joint program of the Vancouver Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, lists 39 women as missing from the Downtown Eastside.[1][2]

The event was initiated by First Nations women in 1992, when the body of Cheryl Anne Joe was found dismembered at the corner of Powell and Salsbury streets. The march became an annual event to protest the high numbers of women missing and murdered in the community.[3]

The event has since spread to other Western Canadian cities, including Edmonton and more recently, Calgary.[4] A 2014 study by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found that nearly 1,200 aboriginal women were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012 although some investigators believe the numbers are actually far higher.[5]

Violence against Aboriginal women in Canada[edit]

By the year 2009, close to 67,000 Aboriginal women who were aged 15 and above reported being subjected to violence within the previous 12 months.[6] About 63% of these were aged 15 to 34 years old. 76% of the incidents reported were non-spousal violence and were not reported to police, as is the case with incidents of violence against Aboriginal women.[7] Although many of these crimes against Aboriginal women were not reported to police or other service organizations, such as shelters, etc., 98% of women victimized told an informal source such as a friend or family member.[7]

Women's Memorial March in Downtown Eastside, Vancouver[edit]

According to Dara Culhane, "the annual Valentine's Day Women's Memorial March gives political expression to a complex process through which Aboriginal women here are struggling to change the language, metaphors, and image through which they come to be (re)known as they emerge into public visibility".[8] The Women's Memorial March originated in 1991 in inner city Vancouver on February 14 as a day of remembrance to honor those women who have been murdered or missing.[8]

Since 1983, there has been a reported 61 cases of mostly Aboriginal women who are missing in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.[8] Marches such as the Women's Memorial bring to light what Culhane terms the visibility of Aboriginal women. Women's Memorial Marches are not just held in Vancouver, but also Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Victoria,BC.[9]

Case studies[edit]

Some specific cases which illustrate the depth of the problem of violence against aboriginal women in Canada were highlighted in a report by Amnesty International in 2004.[10] They include the murder of 19-year-old Helen Betty Osborne who was killed November 12, 1971 after a night out with friends in The Pas, Manitoba, a town of 6,000 which was segregated between Indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. She was accosted by four non-indigenous men at 2 a.m. while walking back to her house. Osborne refused to have sex with the men, and was then forced into their car where she was beaten and sexually assaulted. She was then taken to a local cabin, beaten some more and stabbed to death.

The police who were assigned to the case failed to act on specific tips that pointed to the four likely perpetrators. The car that was used during the crime was not searched until a year later (1972). By 1972, police concluded that they didn't have enough evidence for the case. Only twenty years later did the Manitoba Justice Inquiry conclude that the murder was indeed fueled by racism and sexism. Charges were eventually brought in October 1986 when new evidence was released. Dwayne Johnson was found guilty in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison. Among the other men, one was acquitted and the others never charged.

An example of the perceived indifference to the disappearance of Indigenous women is seen in the case of Shirley Lonethunder, a Cree woman from the White Bear First Nations reserve in Saskatchewan who was last seen by family in December 1991. At the time, she was a 25-year-old mother of two. She was a drug user and occasionally worked in the sex trade, according to family members. The family became aware that she was missing in March 1992, when Lonethunder's attorney contacted them to say she had missed a court date. According to Lonethunder's relatives, Saskatoon police investigators showed little interest in the case. Six months after filing a missing person report for his sister, Lonethunder’s brother contacted the police to ask about progress on the case, only to be told they had no record of the report.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Elien, Shadi (February 13, 2009). "Women's Memorial March to take place on Valentine's Day". Georgia Straight. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 
  2. ^ Their Spirits Live within Us: Aboriginal Women in Downtown Eastside Vancouver Emerging into Visibility Dara Culhane, American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3/4, Special Issue: Urban American Indian Women's Activism (Summer - Autumn, 2003), pp. 593-606, University of Nebraska Press.
  3. ^ McDowell, Christine; Lisa Schincariol. "The Global Women's Memorial Website : Creating a circle from which to speak in unison". Canadian Women’s Health Network. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 
  4. ^ Wilton, Suzanne (February 15, 2010). "Hundreds in Calgary march in memorial for missing, murdered women". Calgary Herald. Canwest. Retrieved 16 February 2010. [dead link]
  5. ^ Kennedy, Merrit (17 February 2016). "Canada To Launch Nationwide Investigation Into Murdered, Missing Aboriginal Women". National Public Radio. Retrieved 19 February 2016. 
  6. ^ Brennan, Shannon (17 May 2011). "Violent Victimization of Aboriginal Women in Canadian Provinces, 2009" (PDF). Statistics Canada. 
  7. ^ a b Brennan, Shannon. "Violent Victimization of Aboriginal Women in Canadian Provinces, 2009" (PDF). Statistics Canada. 
  8. ^ a b c Culhane, Dara (2003). "Their Spirits Live Within Us: Aboriginal Women in Downtown Eastside Vancouver Emerging into Visibility". American Indian Quarterly. 3/4. 27 (Urban American Indian Women's Activism). 
  9. ^ Cooper, Jamie; et al. (October 2009 – February 2010). "Addressing Violence Against Aboriginal Women: FNSP Practicum 2009/10 for Battered Women's Support Services". 
  10. ^ "Stolen Sisters: A human rights response to discrimination and violence against Indigenous women in Canada". Amnesty International Canada. Amnesty International Canada. Retrieved 19 February 2016. 

External links[edit]