On a clear, cold December night in Enderby nearly 50 women, men and children gathered to honour Canada’s missing and murdered women.
Standing in a circle at the corner of Enderby Grindrod Road, one of the last places 28-year-old Caitlin Potts of Enderby was seen on Feb. 21, 2016, the crowd lit candles and held a vigil before marching to the Splatsin Community Centre, where each member of the group was invited to share their story and reflect on the women they have lost as a result of domestic violence.
In her message to the crowd prior to their walk Wednesday, one of the event’s organizers, and MMIW Drone Search team leader, Jody Leon, stressed the link between domestic violence and missing women.
“We have had five women go missing from our area (within the last two years.) And this is unacceptable,” she told the crowd. “The Native Women’s Association of Canada says there are over 4,000 women — Indigenous women, who have gone missing. And they have so many statistics about violence, they have stopped counting.”
Carrying placards bearing the names and photos of Treena Marie Ball, Nicole Bell, Ashley Simpson, Deanna Wertz, Traci Genereaux and Potts, participants chanted the somber rallying cry, “Gone, but not forgotten,” as leaders called out the names of more than 100 missing and murdered Canadian women, many of whom identified as Indigenous.
Marney Portugaise, marched quietly with the crowd before speaking briefly about the disappearance of Ashley Simpson. Portugaise is a “close” long-time family friend of the Simpson family.
Simpson was reported missing on April 28, 2016 from Yankee Flats near Salmon Arm. She was 31. Her parents, John and Cindy, were unable to attend Wednesday’s vigil.
Shivering slightly from the bitter cold, pulling her sweatshirt emblazoned with am image of a smiling Simpson flashing a peace sign, framed by the words, “And sometimes against all odds, against all logic, we still hope,” around her for warmth, Portugaise said she has accepted that Ashley will likely not be found alive. She feels the “best” she and Simpson’s parents can hope for is to locate Ashley’s remains.
But she does not believe Ashley will be found on the Silver Creek farm property where Traci Genereaux’s remains were found in November.
“I truly believe that her fate lies in the hands of her boyfriend,” Portugaise said tearfully, adding that she believes she has evidence that Simpson was involved in an “abusive” relationship with her boyfriend.
“He is also, to the best of my knowledge, the last person to see her alive,” she noted.
In light of this, Portugaise said she deemed it appropriate that the vigil was held on the anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, also known as the Montreal massacre. The notorious mass shooting, which occurred at École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989, involved 25-year-old Marc Lepine, who, armed with a Mini-14 rifle and a hunting knife, entered the school and shot 14 women, and injured 10 other women and four men before turning the gun on himself.
Speaker Gloria Morgan stressed the significance of the 1989 massacre on the state of victims rights in Canada, and how “little” has changed over the past 28 years.
“They died because they were women,” she told the crowd. “Today is about remembering victims, but it is also an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the phenomenon of violence against women, and to take action.”
For more information on the MMIW Drone Search team, to get involved with the search for any of the missing local women, or to donate to the drone team, visit them at Murdered And Missing Women Drone Search Team on Facebook. Anyone with information about any of the missing women is urged to call the tip line at 1-877-987-8477