'It's up to us to make a difference': Thousands march for missing, murdered aboriginal women
Marlene Leung and Michael Shulman , CTVNews.ca
Published Saturday, February 14, 2015 12:44PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, February 14, 2015 8:24PM EST
Residents across the country participated in marches on Saturday to call for justice for Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women.
The marches have taken place every Valentine's Day for the past several years.
This year, events took place in such cities as Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon. Similar marches were also organized in parts of the U.S.
More than 500 marchers gathered in Toronto outside the city's police headquarters. Many of the demonstrators carried photos and names of the more 1,200 aboriginal women who have been murdered or have gone missing since the 1980s.
This is the tenth year demonstrators have gathered in the city.
Anastasia, a woman of Métis descent, said that people have an obligation to speak out and push for an end to the violence.
"It is up to us to make the difference as a society and stop the violence and the hate crimes," she told CTV Toronto at the protest.
Organizers blamed the government and police for failing to adequately address the issue and implement protections for aboriginal women.
Many demonstrators called for a federal inquiry into the matter.
In Vancouver, hundreds gathered in the city's Downtown Eastside where serial killer Robert Pickton spent years hunting sex workers, the majority of whom were aboriginal.
Aboriginal women in traditional garb played the drums and sang songs as the march made its way through the area.
Family members clutched photos of their lost loved ones and placed roses at the spots where they were killed.
On the Facebook event page for the Vancouver march, organizers noted that the first Women's Memorial March took place after the 1991 murder of a Coast Salish woman in downtown Vancouver.
"Twenty-five years later, the women’s memorial march continues to honour the lives of missing and murdered women," the page said. "Indigenous women disproportionately continue to go missing or be murdered with minimal to no action to address these tragedies or the systemic nature of gendered violence, poverty, racism, or colonialism."
Organizers at the event said they too, will continue to push for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
The Conservative government has been criticized for its refusal to commission such an inquiry.
In a report released last May, the RCMP estimated about 1,200 aboriginal women and girls were murdered or went missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012. It said that while aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the population, they account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.
The Conservatives have said that they prefer that the issue be dealt with through the justice system, rather than through a national inquiry.
At a news conference Saturday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay briefly touched on the issue, noting that the government was committed to improving the justice system, particularly the aboriginal justice system.
MacKay also announced the government was extending its support for the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, to include $11.1 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year for community-based aboriginal justice programs and initiatives.
"It is an unfortunate reality that aboriginal Canadians are over-represented in our criminal justice system, both as offenders and as victims, and there are many contributing factors that lead to that sad reality," he said.
Body of aboriginal woman found in Calgary yard
The marches coincided with an ongoing police investigation in Calgary into a suspicious death in the city's north-east end.
The body of 31-year-old Dawn Echoes Baptiste was discovered Thursday in Calgary’s Whitehorn neighbourhood. Baptiste had no fixed address, officers said.
Police said they received a call about the body Thursday afternoon, and Batpiste was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death has not yet been released.
Officers spent Thursday night canvassing the neighbourhood, and interviewed the person who called 911. They said they have no information on a possible motive or what sort of weapon, if any, was used.
Officers are now asking for the public's help in identifying Baptiste's activities in the weeks leading up to her death.
She is described as aboriginal, about 5'5" tall, 135 pounds, with brown hair and blond highlights. At the time of her death, she was wearing a red hooded winter jacket, black sweatpants and tan-coloured work boots.
Anyone with information about the case is being asked to call police at 403-266-1234 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
With files from The Canadian Press