Through rain and snow, crowds march for missing and murdered indigenous women

Sombre marches were held in several Canadian cities Sunday to commemorate the country’s missing and murdered indigenous women and draw attention to the countless unsolved tragedies.

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It’s been more than 20 years since the first Women's Memorial March was held in Vancouver, and this year’s rally comes at a moment some advocates consider a major turning point.

Under the new Liberal government in Ottawa, the first phase of a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is underway. A pre-inquiry process is expected to wrap up on Monday.

It’s the first time the march has been held since the government launched a national inquiry. Former prime minister Stephen Harper repeatedly dismissed calls for an inquiry.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who herself is aboriginal, spoke at Vancouver’s march and identified two key priorities the federal government has pinpointed.

“To find justice -- some measure of justice -- for the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, and to collectively work to find solutions to ensure that this tragedy does not continue,” Wilson-Raybould said.

The RCMP has identified 1,181 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Advocates say that figure, released in 2014, continues to grow.

For some, the march carried a more personal significance. Sophie Merasty marched to honour her sister Rose Leana Merasty, who was killed in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside more than two decades ago.

“If it was possible, I would like the inquiry to look at not just her, but to open cases that are cold cases, dead cases, of missing and murdered aboriginal women,” Merasty told CTV News.

With the national inquiry moving forward, march organizers used the opportunity to highlight ways they think the government should lead the investigation.

Fay Blaney, who is on the committee that organizes the Vancouver march, said the inquiry should include consultation with the victims’ families, women’s groups and provincial and territorial governments.

And while Blaney said the march “is significant every year,” she doesn’t need to look far back to remember feeling as though the issue was being ignored by the government.

“I recall sitting here about four or five years ago, maybe longer, saying that there needs to be a national inquiry,” she said.

In Toronto, a similar march wrapped through the city’s streets before ending at police headquarters – a gesture meant to highlight the city’s still unsolved cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. In Winnipeg, butterflies were carried through the streets as symbols of transformation.

With a report from CTV’s Melanie Nagy


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