The message from those gathered at Spirit Square in Castlegar on Tuesday, April 23 was clear: domestic violence needs to be eradicated from society.
The Clothesline event, held annually for the past few years outside Castlegar City Hall, is familiar to many people as a very visual display of support for anti-violence initiatives, with clotheslines full of hand-painted t-shirts bearing messages of anti-violence, peace and love stretched out in long lines across Spirit Square.
A barbecue was also set up, catered by Just Catering and supported by No Frills, Safeway and Kootenay Market. All proceeds were supporting Community Services programs.
This year, Castlegar Community Services wanted to shift the focus to a bigger, more all-encompassing perspective on violence and turn attention to what people can do as individuals and as a community.
Donna Wright, a Métis elder, opened the event by bringing those gathered into a circle and welcoming everyone. Wright said the circle wasn’t so much about prayer as it was about honouring all nations, recognizing the unique gifts that everyone brings to such a gathering and their commitment to being present.
Gerry Rempel, Castlegar fire chief, joined Kris Taks, coordinator of Aboriginal and Family Services Development Program and Wright in First Nations songs and drumming to begin the event.
Nicole Beetstra, general manager of EZ Rock and active community member, spoke briefly about the loss of her sister because of domestic violence and the effects such things have on so many people.
“We can’t change the past,” she said. “But we can change the future by taking one small step to ending violence.”
Clarice Coulson of Castlegar Community Services said this year the intent was to focus on everyone taking that step.
“Some of the things we offer at Community services are: a bridging program which runs a couple of times per year for six weeks, children who witness, women’s outreach and a safe house program,” said Coulson. “We just opened our first safe home in Castlegar so that was very exciting for us, since we don’t have a transition house here, we now don’t have to transport women out of the area; we can keep women and children in their communities.”
She also added that keeping such programs going often takes more than one small step from funding sources such as local and provincial governments. The safe house, for example, opened in December and already the facility is trying to secure funding to operate this year.
One of the groups who consistently makes things happen is Men Speak Out. Bud Godderis was on hand to share his thoughts about what the group does.
“We are a group of men that were initiated by the Castlegar and District Community Services a few yard back now,” said Godderis. “As men, we need to take the opportunity to speak to other men but as we do that we become aware that we need support. We need support if we become violent, we need to find ways to not be violent and we need resources for men. I’m pleased to say that while I was here this morning a gentleman came up and offered to be part of our group so we have increased by one person.”
Most men are slow to come forward and admit to being a violent person in need of help, said Godderis, who added that what is really needed to achieve a society free from domestic violence is equality for women.
Sgt. Laurel Mathew of the Castlegar detachment also spoke at the event and said that although the RCMP obviously take things from a law enforcement perspective, they have expanded and work closely with community services, victim’s services, probation, counselling services and mental health.
“I feel we have come a long way,” said Mathew. “It’s not just about ‘put that guy in jail’ and on to the next thing. We are much more involved all the time.”
Mathew said that follow up allows her to see how victims of violence, both men and women, are making out. Recent risk assessment training has also given the police tools to be better able to predict risk than in the past.
“Rather than just responding and responding and responding, now we can try to assess how big the risk is and what more we can do — that includes community services, probation, crown counsel and others. I think we’re making great progress, it’s taken very seriously and it has to stop.”
Katrine Conroy, MLA candidate for Kootenay West, was also at the event and said many of the international and provincial campaigns supporting anti-violence start at a grass-roots organizations like Community Services and thanked everyone gathered for the work they do.
Conroy mentioned how important it was to educate children and said one of her grandsons painted a shirt for the event a few years ago and she asked him why he was doing it.
“Because it’s just wrong, Granny… it’s just wrong. You shouldn’t hit anybody,” the young boy said.
Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff also spoke and issued a challenge to people to take a stand.
“As you work through life you hear about it and you read about it but do you do something about it,” asked Chernoff. “That’s the goal here — to get people involved in the programs and try to help. It takes a community to solve these issues. I know it’s not an easy solve, it will take some time… but if we all work together we can solve some of these issues and help some of these families.”
Danny Vecchio, an anti-violence educator, presented organizers with a new shirt for the clothesline display that had “I will not be silent because abuse is not love” written on it and said it’s important for boys to deconstruct the “messed up” idea of what it means to be a man.
Speeches ended with Beetstra reciting words of wisdom from American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that has.”