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A sombre, reflective Take Back the Night

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

PEMBROKE - 

Nearly a week since three Renfrew County women who murdered in a horrific killing spree, the annual Take Back the Night March in Pembroke took on a sombre tone Monday night.

Postponed due to last week's tragic events, the rally attracted perhaps its largest crowd in 23 years with more than 200 parading down Pembroke Street West to denounce in no uncertain terms violence against women.

The rally, hosted by the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, was also held to honour the three women killed near Wilno on Sept. 22. A man is in custody facing first-degree murder charges.

“We recognize that many women live with violence every day,” JoAnne Brooks, the centre's director, told the crowd before they embarked on their emotional trek down the street. “Tonight we are marching in memory of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton.”

The march is a symbolic action in which women reclaim the right to walk at night, free of fear. Speakers told the rally that violence and sexual assault too often keep women in a state of fear; it governs how and where they walk, it often confines them to their homes and silences them.

Julie Lalonde, a researcher with the centre who is preparing a study on the numerous issues faced by women in Renfrew County, recounted how she lived in fear for 10 years from an abuser. Last week, she was originally scheduled to speak at the march about her experience, however, the unprecedented tragedy in Wilno forced a lockdown of the centre.

“I couldn't tell that story because women who left an abuser and who called the police didn't live to see the end of the day,” said an emotional Lalonde. “I know there's a lot of women living across the country who are thinking what happened to those women is my worst nightmare.

While she took aim at media complacency, noting that the deaths of the three victims would quickly fade from the headlines, she also alluded that the current federal election campaign is ignoring the issue of domestic violence.

“You've had a massacre in your community and nobody is talking about it,” she explained.

Lalonde recounted how women demonstrating outside the Pembroke courthouse last week were heckled from a passing motorist who yelled an obscenity at them. The protest had been staged to coincide with the bail hearing of the man charged in the deaths of the three women.

“How is this happening in our community?” Lalonde angrily asked. “Less than 24 hours after women were murdered people thought it was funny to yell that stuff.”

The centre has already been contacted by the offices of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Responsible for Women's Issues Tracy MacCharles, with pledges to review the events in Renfrew County and pursue changes in the system.

Mayor Mike LeMay agreed that there has to be changes in the legal system. He noted that the first Take Back the Night march began in Germany in 1978 and there has been little progress in addressing the issue of domestic violence since then.

“Here we are in 2015 and we have three citizens who are very close to us who have been murdered,” he said. “We all wives, children, grandmothers and we want them to feel safe in the community.”

sean.chase@sunmedia.ca