A solemn group of two dozen gathered in Burnaby Sunday to remember those whose lives were cut short at the hands of loved ones.
The annual Disability Day of Mourning is a vigil dedicated to raising awareness that some people with disabilities are killed by caretakers and family members.
“Many of us organizing, and many attending, do have disabilities ourselves,” said Vivian Ly, one of the founders of Autistics United Canada. “A lot of us have had violence enacted on us by our caretakers. A lot of questions that come up are, ‘Am I next?’”
“[The vigil] is sending the message that our lives are worth living; that these murders are not justified,” she said.
In preparing for this year’s event, Ly researched one of Metro Vancouver’s latest victims, Florence Girard, a 54-year-old Port Coquitlam woman who had Down syndrome.
Girard was found starved and malnourished in October 2018; she weighed just 56 pounds. Her case was not brought to light until this year, when her caretaker was formally charged in her death.
“She did not deserve such a horrific death,” Ly said. “She deserved way better from those who were responsible for her care.”
She doesn’t want to focus on the circumstances of Girard’s death and pending court case, but rather remember the life that she led. She told the crowd the 54-year-old was funny, liked to take photos and swam competitively.
“We want to remember them as people,” Ly said. “People like us. And they had voices, too – even if they were silenced too soon.”
During the vigil, Sam McCulligh, another organizer, read a list of victims from across the country who have died since this type of death began being officially recorded.
“When I read the list, I just think about how many people have been senselessly murdered,” he said.
The list contains 61 names, but McCulligh believes there are many more cases that didn’t get reported.
For example, the list dates back to the early 1940s, but only two cases are mentioned before it jumps to a victim in 1977. Then there’s another large gap before Tracy Latimer’s name is mentioned.
The 12-year-old Saskatchewan girl was killed by her father in 1993. Robert Latimer served 10 years in prison and when he was released, he said he had no regrets about killing her.
The father always claimed he killed her out of compassion to end her daily pain and suffering.
“It’s extremely disturbing to me that he’s been receiving so much support after essentially murdering his own daughter,” McCulligh said. “A lot of times, we aren’t viewed as full people; our lives are viewed as tragedies, viewed as burdens.”
He said that is why it is so important to hold events like the vigil to raise awareness that a disability should not result in a death sentence.