Vigil in Guelph to remember victims of gender-based violence

A vigil was held in Guelph Monday night to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Members of a local crisis group read aloud the names of 58 women and girls who were killed in gender-based violence last year.

That's 37 more than were reported in 2020, representing the highest number of femicides in Ontario in the last five years.

"Gender-based violence is a really isolating experience, and COVID has only exacerbated that when it comes to the barriers to be able to access safe spaces like a friends or family member's house that could be a safe place to seek harbor," said Raechelle Devereaux, CEO of the Guelph Community Health Centre.

Members of Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis also read out the names of the 14 women who were killed at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989.

"The issues are really real, really present," said Devereaux. "It actually needs broad action from policymakers."

More people were staying home during the pandemic, making it tougher for those living with abusers to safety make a crisis call or tell someone about their situation.

It was even more challenging for anyone not physically located near a gender-based violence support organization.

Organizers of Monday's event said it was important to hold the vigil outside because it was the first opportunity for the group to gather in person since the start of the pandemic.

"The grief that comes with that, it's always better to share that with community, when you can feel the warmth of the people around you despite the chilly cold air around us," said Jensen Williams, a public educator with Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis.

"We need to look at gun-based violence and actual regulations around firearms," said Devereaux. "We also need to have great space in our women's shelters, which requires funding."

She adds that it's important for men to show they are allies to the women around them by speaking up when something is wrong.

"To call out and to call in the behavior, whether it's in change rooms, bars, or whether it's just on the street in terms of sexual-based violence, and the comments that we know is the first step towards gender-based violence."