The candlelight vigil took place Wednesday at Okanagan College. (Brieanna Charlebois/Morning Star)

Vernon candlelight vigil honours women who have experienced violence

Candles and long-stem red roses were carried around campus as a sign of remembrance.

Wednesday marked the 10th year Vernonites gathered to honour the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, the 14 female engineering students murdered in 1989 at the L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and all women who have experienced violence.

Planned in accordance with National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, celebrated on Nov. 6, about 50 people including an Indigenous studies class, met for the event at Okanagan College.

Related: Candlelight vigil to honour women who experienced violence

Related: Candlelight vigil honours the memory of Nicole Bell and other missing B.C. women

For about two hours, attendees listened to community leaders gave speeches, listened to various musical performances and heard women share personal stories and anecdotes.

Among the group was Danielle Gordon, a Métis woman originally from Manitoba. Today, she lives in Cherryville and is an author, a motivational speaker and life coach, but she has also experienced the true effects of sexual violence. After being violently assaulted by a family member at age 11, she was silenced and ended up on the streets at 13. She said she now believes she was silenced in the protection of her and her family against the stigma related to such crimes.

“I was in silence for 27 years. I struggled with the heartbreak; the shame, and I just want people to be able to reach out and speak and not be silenced. I have seen how the system is so broken but survived, and now I’m going forward and taking Indigenous studies and learning about the importance of what I know and what I’ve been through.”

Last September, Gordon, who is a contributing co-author to Brian Tracy’s book Driven, was invited to Hollywood for a red carpet event where she was inducted National Academy of Best-Selling Authors. She said that taking to the red carpet allowed her to take a share her own story and take a stance both for herself and for all the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She said she believes that remembering them each year through this national event is important in changing the stigma and allowing women to feel comfortable talking about their experiences.

Anthony Isaac, Aboriginal Services Coordinator at Okanagan College, said the focus is right there in the title: it’s a call to action.

“Lowering our flags to half-staff on National Day of Remembrance and Action signifies our commitment on so many levels of our commitment to ending violence against women and it’s events like this and our new campaigns that really put that into action,” said Isaac. “It’s an important day and every year we’re seeing more education and awareness growing from that foundation, creating a shift in that narrative. For some maybe a change in dialogue starts today or tomorrow, but that will impact and create more positive action for what we want to do to end violence against women.”

For the second year in a row, Vernon council member and co-executive director of Turning Points Collaborative Centre Kelly Fehr spoke and, noticing a crowd of mostly women, took the opportunity to call out to the men of the community.

“Just like last year, I’m disappointed with the number of men that showed up this evening because that’s really sad. It’s rare that opportunities like this where community leaders can stand together in issues like this that matter,” he said.

Having been elected last month to council, he also acknowledged his intention to use his newly elected platform to bring awareness and publicly make a stand against sexual violence against women.

“I didn’t say it as a campaign ploy. I said it as a male who had a public platform and when men have this advantage, I believe we have an obligation to use it to stand in solidarity with our sisters. In terms of my role at Turning points, Vernon has a long history of discriminating against women’s services, to be quite frank, and so we’ve done a lot of work in working towards ensuring that’s not the case anymore.”

After speeches, the night concluded around 8 p.m. with a candlelight walk around the campus. The sound of drumming rang across the courtyard as candles and long-stem red roses were carried as a sign of remembrance and to honour all women who have experienced violence because of their gender.

“Today, we say the names of the 14 women murdered at École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989, and we remember their lives that ended in violence, stolen because of their gender,” B.C. Premier John Horgan wrote in a public statement Thursday. “Twenty-nine years later, gender-based violence and discrimination continue to happen every day, in places where we work, learn and live. As we stand together and observe moments of silence in their honour, we recommit to using our voices and platforms to speak out, and to work together to end gender-based violence. The time for change is now. Together, we can advance equality and build a brighter, safer future for women, girls and trans people in British Columbia, in Canada, and around the world.”

According to Statistics Canada, rates of domestic violence have edged up over the past year after an eight-year decline. In a report released Wednesday, the agency said police-reported rates of abuse for seniors, children, youth and intimate partners all increased slightly, with women once again being overrepresented as victims.

Related: Domestic violence on the rise in Canada after 8-year decline

Related: Women in vulnerable demographics most at risk of domestic homicide, study finds

Related: Standing together against violence towards women

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Danielle Gordon shared her story Wednesday night. (Brieanna Charlebois/Morning Star)

Tanya Lipscomb performed three songs throughout the event. (Brieanna Charlebois/ Morning Star)

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