Vigil honouring Rebekah Love Harry sheds light on domestic abuse problem in Quebec
Montrealers marched in unity with the Harry and Frenette families to commemorate her life
Some 1,500 people gathered at Cabot Square late in the afternoon on April 3 to commemorate the life of Rebekah Love Harry, and to condemn domestic violence as a whole.
The march forced the temporary closure of Ste-Catherine St., where protesters chanted Harry’s name and marched in solidarity with family members of the deceased.
“We are here for Rebekah Love Harry. To remember this beautiful, charismatic woman who lost her life,” said Svetlana Chernienko, co-organizer of the vigil, and domestic abuse advocate and survivor.
In the past eight weeks, eight women have been killed by their partners in Quebec, of whom Harry was the seventh to be murdered. This marks 13 murders reportedly related to conjugal violence in total since the start of this year in Quebec alone.
“We need change. It’s too many,” added Chernienko. “We need to take a stand. We need to start having conversations. We need to educate our young men and women at home. Because at the end of the day, it starts at home.” Chernienko also served as primary spokesperson for the family at the event.
The rise of femicides in the past several weeks is alarming, and social organisations as well as women’s shelters claim that confinement caused by the pandemic is the root cause.
According to Brigitte Garceau, a senior partner in family law at Robinson Sheppard Shapiro law firm and president of the West Island Women’s Shelter, femicide is a government issue just as much as it is a public safety issue. She said domestic violence needs to be addressed further on both the federal and provincial levels.
“19,000 women or children are being turned away from shelters in our country every day,” she said. “That says something about the magnitude of the problem.”
Harry, aged 29, died on March 23 in LaSalle following fatal injuries sustained from an attack by her boyfriend, Brandon McIntyre. As a result, McIntyre, 32, was charged with second-degree murder, and will remain detained until April 21 for his official formality hearing.
She also left behind her 9-year-old son, who will remain under her family’s supervision.
“It’s exceptionally sad that this happened to Rebekah and 13 other women here in Quebec,” added Garceau. “We need to come together as a community to tell the government that we need more funding. We need concrete measures in order to break the silence, because it’s horrific.”
Over the past week, Premier François Legault announced he would be personally handling the matter of conjugal violence in the province. The announcement was made following a build-up of public outrage from Quebecers across the province after the death of 43-year-old Kataluk Paningayak-Naluiyuk, the eighth victim from the series of murders.
Following complaints from shelters that a serious lack of funding was preventing them from admitting more women in need of temporary sheltering services, the government decided to intervene. Just last week, they presented a budget of $4.5 million that is set for distribution between 100 shelters in Quebec per year.
Johanna Stosik, vice-president of the Westmount Municipal Association, said the pandemic makes it harder for victims to leave their homes. According to her, people experiencing domestic abuse during the pandemic are not fully aware of the resources available to them. She believes that proper funding would provide additional services and programs for those seeking help.
A vigil, organised by family members and close friends of the deceased, was held at Dorchester Square, where the march officially ended.
People gathered at the tail end of the Sir Wilfred Laurier Memorial to lay down candles and flowers in honour of Harry’s life. Her family and close friends, taken aback by the large turnout, were thankful for the outpour of love and support.
“We are not going to lose any more women,” said Chernienko. “We had 160 women die last year [in Canada], and 90 per cent of them lost their lives due to a man in their life.”
The vigil closed with a few words from family and close associates, including the victim’s brother, Teddy Frenette, and her father, Ian Kenford Harry.
“When something like this happens to you, you go to some dark places,” Harry’s father commented. “But you all came out to show love, and I appreciate it.”
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, please contact the 24/7 SOS Violence Conjugale hotline.
Phone: 1 (800) 363-9010
SMS: (438) 601-1211
With files from Diane Yeung.