Community members joined Alberni Community and Women Services Society staff on a candlelit walk through the fog on Wednesday, Dec. 6 for the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada.
The National Day of Remembrance was established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada to mark the anniversary of the murders of 14 women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989, but it has since grown to signify much more than this.
“We are not just remembering the 14 women,” said ACAWS executive director Ellen Frood on Wednesday. “We are remembering all women who have lost their lives to gender-based violence.”
Participants walked from the ACAWS office to the Eagles’ Nest at the bottom of Third Avenue, where they gathered for a home-cooked meal.
Sharie Minions, the ACAWS board chair, thanked all participants for coming out.
“It’s nice to see a small but intimate gathering tonight,” she said.
Jolleen Dick, the Executive Assistant for Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser, also provided a message from the MLA, who was unable to attend the event.
The National Day of Remembrance is just one day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10. In Port Alberni, the 16 Days have been organized and arranged by North Island College and the North Island Students’ Union.
The 16 Days started with the planting of purple ribbons along Stamp Avenue to mark the number of reported incidents of violence against youth and women in the Valley over the past year. The number has tripled in the past three years.
“That’s a pretty big number,” said Frood in an earlier interview. “It’s sad news. But it’s also good news, because it reflects that people are feeling comfortable in the system and making those calls.”
The ribbons, she said, are to provoke thought. “We want people to ask, ‘what are those purple ribbons for?'” she said. “And the answer is that those ribbons represent the number of women who were impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault in some way, shape or form.”
The theme of this year’s 16 Days campaign is “Together We Can End Gender-Based Violence In Education.” Canadian colleges are now required to create a sexual assault policy—Frood provided North Island College as an example.
“They had amazing training for all their staff,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things we want to see.”
Violence, said Frood, can hinder somebody’s right to an education.
“We all have a role to play,” Frood emphasized. “We have to work to break the generational cycles of abuse. That work starts in the schools, in education.”
ACAWS continues to work towards education in the community. On Tuesday, Nov. 28, they debuted their informational film Witness, which takes the viewer through the process of reporting domestic violence and giving evidence in court. The film is now available to watch online.