This is the talk I am giving today in Ottawa for Victims of Violence Week in memory of my wonderful daughter Rehtaeh Parsons.
The past year has been a year filled with a great deal of pain but also with hope.
Before Rehtaeh died she shared with a quote that she felt reflected the world she came to know. The words of Martin Luther King…
“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I wish Rehtaeh could hear the words of today. The words of friends we have come to know. The words of strangers, of children, fathers and mothers. The words of those we entrust with running our democracy, policing our streets, teaching our children, and being our neighbours.
These words are silent no longer. They are loud, they are clear, and they want her, and those who find themselves walking in her shoes to know – we do care.
Last week some young women in Newmarket Ontario were targeted on Facebook. Collectively they spoke up. They went to the school administration, the police, and their parents. Then they created posters about equality and women’s rights and put them up in their school hallways. They had heard of Rehtaeh’s story and knew they needed to act.
12 year old Grace McCluskey of Cole Harbour Nova Scotia was recently targeted online. “Someone made an account ‘hey Grace is a loser.’ They’re posting photos of me, saying…go kill yourself. McCluskey’s mother says she was heartbroken after reading the comments about Grace, but she is grateful to the many students who stood up for her daughter.
Today I stand before you filled with hope that Canada is not a country that has ever or ever will, look upon those in need and turn away. Our youth are learning the importance of standing up for others.
The injustice we walk by is the injustice we accept.
We are a country built upon the framework of every community within our borders. Every home, every school, every office, and every street. We are all affected and heartbroken when violence takes place in our communities. We collectively shed tears of sadness, especially when that violence is directed at a young person.
What makes us alike far exceeds what makes us different.
If the last year has taught me anything it is that Canadians are not a nation of talkers – Canada is a nation of doers. We see the pain an injustice can cause and we work to correct it. We work to show our support, to show our empathy and compassion, and we work believing we can prevent it from happening again.
One missing, murdered, or wounded loved one – sister, brother, friend, daughter, son, neighbour, or soul – is one to many. We cannot remain silent unless we are willing to accept what that silence says.
We would not be here today unless Canada was founded on the belief that something better was possible.
Victims of Violence Canada was founded by Gary and Sharon Rosenfeldt, after their sixteen year old son Daryn was abducted and murdered in 1981. At that time, they found that there were virtually no services or support programs to help families dealing with such tragedies.
A lot has changed since 1981 – a lot has changed because they did not remain silent. They did not walk away. They turned their grief into a commitment so that no longer do victims of violence feel they are alone.
No victim deserves our silence.
In the end, we now remember only the voices of outrage and support from our friends while the words of our enemies are the words that have fallen silent.
I am here today for Rehtaeh Parsons, Loretta Saunders, Jamie Hubley, Amanda Todd, and the uncountable number of victims whose names we may never know.
I am here today representing all the grieving mothers and fathers, the crying little sisters and brothers, the empty rooms….the unfulfilled promises of a future filled with wonder and joy of those we have loved – and lost.
I am here today to say to you that silence is the biggest enemy of all.
Today marks a call to action. The theme for this years Victims of Violence Week is taking action.
My daughter Rehtaeh was a victim of violence, her mother and little sisters are victims of violence, her friends have suffered, her community has grieved, and her death and the deaths of many promising young people like her has affected us all.
And this affect reveals that our communities care. And as a father – a victim – as hard as the past year has been for me and my family – I feel and see that caring everyday.
Of all the feelings I’ve had over the past year, anger – fear – sadness – guilt – frustration – and despair… – loneliness has not been one of them.
As much as there were days this past year that I may have felt otherwise, I have come to know that I am not alone in my sadness, I never was, and you are not, alone.
Victims of violent crime in Canada are not alone.
They have a voice. My voice, your voice, and the voices of many many others.
Recently our government has introduced historic legislation aimed to ensure that victims are at the heart of our judicial system and that they have the right to information, protection, participation and restitution.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper states that “Victims will have enforceable rights in Canada’s criminal justice system, will be treated with the respect and fairness that they deserve, and will have a stronger voice.”
Being a victim means feeling hurt, confused, helpless, and angry. The wounds go deeper still when victims experience a loss of faith and trust in justice. I applaud our governments commitment to build back that trust and restore our faith.
But it requires all of us, not just our government, to take action.
The past year has been a year of grief for our family. Through this all, one voice has not been heard from. The voice of Rehtaeh’s little 4-year old sister – Teaghan.
I asked Rehtaeh’s mom to check in with her and see if she would share her thoughts.
Teaghan had this to say…
Ever since Rehtaeh has gone I can’t talk to her anymore and tell her stuff. I really need to tell her things, but now I can’t. I look out the window and I used to see her walking up the street but now I don’t. I see other kids, but its never Rehtaeh. I guess I just really miss her and need her. We are all sad. All because of bullies…didn’t they know she had sisters that love her? I wish I would have known, so that I could help Rehtaeh.
Today marks the first year since our daughters death. One year ago today, we said good bye.
During this year the action taken by many others has restored our faith and given us a great sense of hope for the future. For this, I am forever grateful.
Anice Langille Phillips
All through Chance and Nathanials growing up, one of my greatest joys was to walk them to school and pick them up. RKT was a small school. I loved watching all the kids line up all sweet and dressed up and thinking of how much potential they ALL had.I enjoyed volunteering for class trips. We all as moms and dads would take our precious children by the hand and walk them into the school yard protecting our my precious gifts with our lives. Then the dreaded day comes where it is not cool to be with their parents anymore and we have no choice but to trust that society will be kind which it usually never is. My boys were in Rehtaehs class from grade primary to 6 and if someone told me back them any of those children would suffer such a tragedy I would not beleive them because at the time all I saw was innocence in the children and peace in the world. When and why do things change? Why do they start bullying each other?
I remember Rehtaeh as the sweet little angel with long hair and glasses, very smart and much of the time with her little spaniel Jasper…When one of the other children were hurt in the schoolyard, Rehtaeh was often sitting next to them consoling them rather than running with her classmates. Rehtaeh loved animals so much that she could tell you why her and her family were vegetarian at such a young age. The biggest tragedy in this whole ordeal is how much potential she had, and after she made it through the adolesence mess and found herself and become that adult we all have to become someday…would she be the veterinarian who saved your dogs life ???…would she have talked someone off a bridge????…would she find a cure for cancer????…Would she be that freind that made everyones day???… We will never know now and society has failed her…SHAME on all those who hurt her that night and also on those who bullied her…I pray that ALL the rest of our children and young adults stay safe each and everyone of them. From my own children to my freinds children to the neighbors I dont know…I pray this will never happen again