A large group of Smithers area residents gathered May 5 to mark the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Approximately 70 people lined Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears, drumming, singing, and honouring more than 40 women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered on the 725-kilometre stretch of road between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
Each year, as the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people has grown, more and more people of all backgrounds are donning red and hanging red dresses outside their homes and around their towns to memorialize those who have been taken from their own homes and families.
“My family and many others have been impacted by the Highway of Tears and violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit,” said organizer Kayla Mitchell.
“We need to hold people accountable at the community and government level. We need community-based, wrap-around support for people impacted by MMIWG2S. We must create a tangible action plan to address the injustice that happens in our back yard, and work towards implementing the MMIWG2S Inquiry calls to action.”
Downtown, the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre displayed white crosses with paper red dresses on them, a sign that read “No more stolen sisters” and lit candles.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach, who attended, also posted to Facebook in solidarity saying he intends to keep pushing the federal government to implement all 231 of the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Prior to March 18, the demonstration would have been considered unlawful under a provincial health order banning outdoor gatherings and organizers and attendees might have been subject to hefty fines.
On that date, however, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the ban was unconstitutional.
Dr. Bonnie Henry consequently modified the order “subject to reasonable limits, prescribed by law, as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
She said those limits include precautionary pandemic-related restrictions.
“In consequence, I am not prohibiting outdoor assemblies for the purpose of communicating a position on a matter of public interest or controversy, subject to my expectation that persons organizing or attending such an assembly will take the steps and put in place the measures recommended in the guidelines posted on my website in order to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
Smithers RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Terry Gillespie said they are still responsible for enforcing the health order, but are not investigating this gathering because organizers and attendees appeared to be observing the rules.
The Court’s decision also calls into question the validity of previously issued tickets for other demonstrations such as the anti-COVID restrictions rallies held earlier this year in Smithers.
Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson came up short of invalidating a specific ticket issued to one of the petitioners who had been fined $2,300 for organizing a protest in Dawson Creek because the specific reasons for the ticket were not presented in evidence.
“The validity of the ticket does not necessarily depend upon the constitutionality of the impugned orders,” Hinkson said. “I should not adjudicate on their validity without the factual background that resulted in their issuance.”
With files from Thom Barker