Bridget Tolley said she never invited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the vigil she was holding on Parliament Hill last year, but his office called and asked to come.
For years, Tolley has been involved in the annual Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit vigils to remember nearly 1,200 murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) that are held from coast to coast to coast every year on Oct. 4. The day is meant to be non-political, a day of remembrance for families and all who mourn stolen sisters, aunts, partners, mothers, daughters and friends.
“This is all about our missing sisters,” said Tolley, who lost her mother Gladys Tolley on Oct. 5, 2001 after she was struck by a Sûreté du Québec police cruiser as she walked across a two-lane highway on the Kitigan Zibi-Anishinabeg First Nation, north of Ottawa. A police investigation into her death revealed no wrongdoing and called the case an accident.
“I can’t believe I am still doing this,” said the grandmother. She has fought, unsuccessfully, for years to get her mother’s case re-opened and independently investigated. “This year, I want to fill the Hill.”
This year, she is expecting the prime minister to return to the steps of the Parliament Hill at noon, along with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, and remember with them and perhaps speak to some of the families gathered. “I want to hear it straight from him,” she said. Also expected are the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett and Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott.
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After the vigil, there will be a traditional feast for the families in the Centre Block hosted by New Democratic Party MP’s including Romeo Saganash.
At least 200 vigils will occur on Oct. 4 at various times throughout the day. The vigils can take many forms. Some are moments of silence, others are assemblies in school gymnasiums, feasts or a gathering of families who are coming together for mutual support and remembrance.
Tolley hopes that on Wednesday everyone will put their concerns surrounding the problem-plagued national inquiry into MMIWG aside and they will focus on what is important — the lost women and girls and the families left behind. The inquiry, which just wrapped up family hearings in Smithers, B.C., has struggled with senior staff resignations and accusations of poor communications with families.
“I know it is so hard with all the divisions right now. I hope we can all unite. We all started off together by honouring them. I just hope we can continue. This is about them and for them. I am calling for unity,” said Tolley.
Francyne Joe, NWAC president, will be at the Ottawa vigil. She is also hoping to see MMIWG National Inquiry Commissioner Michelle Audet.
“I think the families need to see the commissioners as part of this event,” said Joe. “At the Oct. 4 vigils — there should be no political platforms. This is a moment where we honour the MMIWG and also pay respect to the families involved. We are hoping the families will be encouraged by the support they are getting across Canada,” Joe said.
“This is a moment where families can get together. They may have bonded over previous vigils and programs before but it is an important they get together now,” Joe said.