Editorial note: September 30 marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation across Canada. It is also Orange Shirt Day, a day meant to raise awareness of the devastation and painful legacy inflicted on Indigenous people in this country through the residential school system.
Today is a day on which we are all meant to pause, to reflect, to learn, to grow, and to find meaningful ways to respond to the 94 Calls to Action thoroughly compiled by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015.
As of Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, 13 of the 94 Calls to Action are “complete” (13.8 per cent); 32 are “in progress” with projects underway (34 per cent); 31 are “in progress” with projects proposed (32.9 per cent); and 18 have not yet been started (19.2 per cent), according to CBC’s Beyond 94 project.
September 30 is, in fact, part of that response, directly answering Call 81: “We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Orange Shirt Day has multiple ties to different Calls to Action, many of which speak to awareness, acknowledgement, and rapprochement around the residential school system and the decades of damage still echoing in its wake.
But there are other Calls to Action Kingstonist has considered in the publication of this submitted letter:
- Calls 84 through 86 directly speak to media and reconciliation and, while they don’t directly point to publishers and journalists making space for Indigenous voices and views in their respective media publications, this is an underlying — and incredibly important — step in ensuring the voices of Indigenous Peoples are no longer stifled nor shuttered from their role in the national media landscape.
- Call 41, among others, points to the need for awareness, inquiry, investigation, and action around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
One week after I was elected in 2014, I attended the [then] National Aboriginal Day event at Market Square. I was moved by seeing the Faceless Doll Project and ended up reaching out to the Native Women’s Association of Canada to borrow their panels for an awareness campaign. Shortly after a story came out in the paper, I received an email from a woman in Kingston, telling me that her daughter was Indigenous and had been murdered. We have maintained a friendship ever since.
This year on October 5 it will be 20 years since Nicolle was murdered. Every year, 82-year-old Eleanor Hands has attended the Sisters in Spirit vigil, reading her story, a plea to the public to build awareness and hopefully help find the person who killed her daughter. This year, she says, will be her last year, and she doesn’t know if she can read the story or attend the vigil, but she wants her story to get out. I have helped her write the story.
Former MPP for Kingston and the Islands
My last statement for Nicolle
October 5th, 2003 is a day that has haunted me daily for almost 20 years. Our family was plunged into an abyss of unimaginable despair. A darkness from which we would never fully emerge. It was a day when the fabric of our lives unravelled, forever altering the course of our existence. The phone rang, a seemingly innocuous event, but the voice on the other end shattered our world. It was a call from Winnipeg, Manitoba, bearing the shattering news that my beloved daughter, Nicolle, had been mercilessly stabbed in her own kitchen. She was mere feet away from her three children, who were asleep in their beds, oblivious to the horrifying tragedy unfolding just on the other side of the wall.
My precious daughter Nicolle succumbed to her grievous injuries, leaving us to grapple with the agonizing questions that would plague us for an eternity. Who could commit such an unspeakable act, and why? There are no words to describe the depth of our anguish.
Nicolle’s children, then aged nine, seven, and a tender 16 months, were left motherless. They were robbed of the chance to be embraced by her loving arms, to have their hands held by their mother on the way to school. They would never hear those cherished words “I love you” again. They were thrust into a world devoid of the maternal guidance that should have been their birthright, denied the teachings of their Indigenous heritage that Nicolle would have lovingly imparted. It was central to who she was.
Desperate to find order and fathom our next steps in the wake of this unthinkable tragedy, I made the decision to bring Nicolle’s children back to Ontario. Here, they embarked on a journey marked by the absence of their mother’s warmth and wisdom. The journey was not without its challenges, but these resilient souls blossomed into remarkable young adults. One has graduated from Queen’s University with two degrees, a testament to their determination. Another would find solace in caring for animals as a veterinary assistant, while the third would master the culinary arts and become a chef. Each accomplishment was a poignant reminder of the dreams Nicolle had harbored for her children.
This year marks a 20-year journey in pursuit of justice. My daughter’s case was being handled by the Homicide Unit. ‘Daughter’ and ‘homicide’ are words a mother never imagines saying in the same sentence about their own daughter. Nicolle’s case was led by Sgt. Jim Thiessen, a man whose dedication, commitment, and passion for solving missing and murdered Indigenous women cases ran deep. Sgt. Thiessen confided in me that Nicolle’s case continued to haunt him, even two decades later. The passage of time brought with it a revolving door of dedicated officers, each embarking on a tireless quest to apprehend the perpetrator, yet fate and a conviction remained stubbornly elusive.
In 2011, a glimmer of hope emerged as the Winnipeg Police Service and the RCMP joined forces to create Project Devote. They meticulously selected 18 cold cases, including Nicolle’s, with the hope of finally unravelling the threads of these unsolved homicides. Tasked with investigating these painful mysteries that have eviscerated families in Manitoba, dedicated teams from the Winnipeg Police Services worked diligently. The composition of these teams changed every two years, and still, justice eluded us. It wasn’t until 2017 when Detective Rick Lofto and his unwavering partner took over Nicolle’s case that a renewed sense of hope ignited within me. While they couldn’t divulge details, their unwavering dedication spoke volumes. Then came the day we had yearned for — a call informing us that an arrest was imminent, although devoid of specifics. The following day, Detective Lofto delivered the news we had longed to hear: “We got him, and he’s in a cell.”
In that moment, our hearts swelled with relief, and hope soared. Yet, the very next morning, another call shattered our newfound optimism as we learned they had to release the suspect due to a lack of concrete evidence. The emotions that washed over me were indescribable. I was now tasked with delivering this heart-wrenching blow to my grandchildren, a burden I prayed never to bear again.
Once again, Nicolle’s case was shelved amongst the cold cases, and the stark reality set in — until fresh information surfaced, the journey towards justice remained stalled. Will this relentless torment ever end? Life must forge ahead, but the resounding silence from area code 204, proclaiming, “We got him, and the murder charge is solid,” remains elusive, a haunting spectre. In the meantime, for 7,286 days, my heart continues to flutter with trepidation every time the phone rings.
Someone somewhere knows the truth. Someone knows the face of the person who tore these innocent children from their mother’s loving embrace. PLEASE, PLEASE find the courage to pick up the phone and reach out to the Winnipeg Police Services or Crime Stoppers. Bless us with the peace and closure we so desperately crave.
We never know how much time we have, but what I do know is that my Nicolle was not with us long enough. As an 82-year-old grandmother, there is nothing I yearn for more than to live long enough to witness the day when Nicolle’s murderer is caught.
In closing, I offer these words:
During life’s most heart-wrenching moments, it’s all too easy to be consumed by darkness. But in those moments, all I need to do is look into the eyes of my three extraordinary grandchildren and understand that her spirit, my beautiful daughter, lives on and thrives through them.
To the person who took my daughter’s life, or anyone who knows something about her case, I beseech you, PLEASE do the right thing. Grant three young adults and their aching and heartbroken grandmother the peace that we’ve been denied for far too long. While our lives are moving onward into the twilight years, their adult lives are just beginning. Restore their faith, release them from this purgatory.
Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].