By Jessica Cable
In June of 2008 the first Walk 4 Justice set out from Vancouver, honouring the 2,932 missing and murdered women the group had named in their database of research and demanding a national public inquiry from the government. Four years later the walkers are once again on route to Ottawa, this time, however, they’re walking for the 4,200 women they say have now been murdered or gone missing across Canada.
“It doesn’t get any easier and it’s escalating. We want to stop violence against women once and for all,” said Walk 4 Justice’s co-founder Gladys Radek, whose niece disappeared in 2005 off of the Highway of Tears in Northern B.C. “What do we want? We want justice and we want it now.”
Radek, along with the group’s co-founder Bernie Williams and 10 other walkers, arrived in Kenora last night, each one of them sharing tragic stories about a missing or murdered family member to a room of supporters at First Baptist Church. The group of women and men are taking their stories to rally on Parliament Hill, where they plan to arrive on Sept. 19. The group is advocating for proper support programs, education and public safety nets to be put in place.
“Our own stories keep us going,” said Williams, a long-time advocate for women living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “You do get bitter after a while, though. You don’t see the change happening and you see the numbers increasing and you see programs for women and children getting cut and you see the systematic racism. I’m so tired of being stereotyped. These women had a right to live.”
The Walk 4 Justice support vehicles are covered with photographs and details of women who have been murdered or gone missing.
“We asked for permission from the families we’ve met, either from the walk, emails or rallies, to carry those pictures,” said Williams. “They’re of women from 1986 to 2011.”
Since the walk began on June 21, Williams said 19 women have been murdered or gone missing. One of the most recent cases is the gruesome death of 32-year-old Roberta McIvor, whose body was found decapitated on Sandy Bay First Nation on July 30. The group of walkers visited McIvor’s family while walking through Manitoba.
“For myself, it was very emotional. Roberta’s mom brought us to where they found her remains. We need to stand by her, but it was just so emotional and heavy on all of us,” said Williams, adding this year’s walk will likely be her last.
“I’ve been (drawing attention to the issue) since 1986 and it’s taken a toll on me,” she said. “I can’t do another one. Nothing has changed. But I do believe in possibilities.”
Williams, Radek and all the participants of Walk 4 Justice have garnered the support of human rights group KAIROS and Amnesty International since forming in 2008. While in Winnipeg this week, the group was also inducted into the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
“I’m grateful that someone is acknowledging the work all the walkers, from the first walk to this one, have done,” Radek said. “The families [of the victims] have been silenced for too long.”
Walk 4 Justice’s co-founder Bernie Williams and some of the group’s members share their stories with supporters Tuesday evening at First Baptist Church.