As debate simmers over Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s transient population, vigil remembers those who died
As Happy Valley-Goose Bay residents demand more police and social services to respond to a growing transient population, organizers of a recent candlelight vigil say an important voice has gone unheard : the people who live on the trails themselves.
On Thursday, five people gathered outside City Hall to remember those who died while living on the trail system in the central Labrador city.
The group lit candles around framed photographs of Lukie Karpik, Frederica Benuen, Susanna Rich-Poker and Tama Bennett – all of whom died while living on the city’s network of hiking and snowmobile trails, called « the trails”, since 2019. In recent years, Maurice Penashue, in 2015, and Tommy Paul, in 2020, have died on the trails.
« I think it’s important to remember the lives that were lost or to remember the individuals and keep that face, » said organizer Jade Rachwal.
“A lot of times these discussions are really taken away from the people who were losing and just reminding the wider community that these are real people who were lost, so we don’t see that as a nameless and faceless thing.”
The vigil followed a larger rally on Thursday afternoon, when around 40 people outside City Hall called for stronger policing and better social services to tackle what they called a public safety crisis in the community. The mayor estimates that 80 people live on the trails.
Rachwal said the perspective of those who live on the trails has not been heard enough in public discourse and the media over the fears of landlords and business owners.
Amy Norman, one of those present at the vigil, said people living on the trails often don’t have the same ability to have their voices heard as homeowners and business owners.
« They’re busy surviving, like they have to take care of themselves, » Norman said. « They’re so busy in survival mode that they may not have time to counter rally. »
Norman says there are no easy answers to problems.
« It’s tragic and it’s unnecessary, » Norman said. « I feel like every time winter comes it gets scarier and scarier because we’re losing people every year. »
While rallies in Happy Valley-Goose Bay have called for increased policing, Norman said the RCMP is not the answer because Indigenous peoples and racialized people in general are already under too much scrutiny. She said she would prefer to see concrete action taken by the provincial government.
« How many more meetings do we need to have before these deaths stop? » said Norman.
Participant Martina Lavallee said the RCMP should look at community roles, such as the Native Liaison Officer position that was once assigned to the city. The Nunatsiavut government has also called for the position to be reinstated, and Jennifer Ebert, assistant commissioner and commander of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador, said the force is considering doing so.
“It will take our whole community coming together and finding a solution,” said Misha Liman, one of the women at the vigil. « And I understand that a lot of people fear for their children and their property but… the losses on the other side are much more serious.
« And I probably shouldn’t use that word ‘other side’ because we need to stop seeing it as us versus them. »
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