In solidarity with those in Ottawa, Vancouver and across the country, Montrealers braved the cold at Cabot Square on Valentine’s Day to remember and honour the women Canada forgot – at least 582 missing or murdered Aboriginal women.

This was Montreal’s second annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women, an event that first started in Vancouver in 1991 to remember those who have gone missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For the past 20 years the march has gone through the Eastside to mark the areas from where the women went missing. From that area alone, there are still 32 yet to be accounted for.

The issue of missing and murdered women has taken on a new tone in Montreal with the discovery of Tiffany Morrison’s remains last year. Morrison was a 24-year-old Kahnawake mother who disappeared in 2006 after last being seen heading home from a LaSalle bar in a taxi.

Her remains were discovered in woods beneath the bridge by a construction worker doing maintenance on the Mercier Bridge, just walking distance from the community. No arrests have been made in her case.

“For a lot of people who have heard about this story, this has brought it back home to them. But there are also many who don’t know her story. Something as horrible as this does raise the profile of the issue and slowly but surely more people will find out about this issue,” said Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, of Missing Justice, a collective dedicated to raising awareness of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Before the march got underway, speeches were made to remind the participants what they were there for – justice.

Ghanie said beyond memorializing these women, prevention is a major issue and this is not going to happen if the federal government keeps cutting funding from organizations like the Native Women’s Association of Canada and their Sisters in Spirit Initiative (SIS).

Though SIS was the first organization in Canada to document how many Aboriginal women had gone missing or were murdered, many of whose cases remain unsolved, after five years of special project status under the federal government, their funding was cut indefinitely.

In the wake of the funding cut, the government promised $10 million in the 2010-2011 federal budget, however SIS didn’t see one cent of it. Instead the funding was reallocated to Public Safety Canada and the RCMP to do similar research in less detail and provide for wider police privileges, such as wiretappings.

“We want them to put their money where their mouth is basically. If they say they want to prioritize the safety of Aboriginal women, increasing police power for the purpose of wiretaps and so on is not going to make Aboriginal women safer,” said Ghanie.

Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) and co-president of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Strategy Network, also spoke at the rally and presented some interesting facts.

While she noted that 42% of the women she sees at the NWSM are victims of violence, there is some hope. Nakuset said she had recently been contacted by a representative from Public Safety Canada who was looking for input in regards to developing safety plans for Aboriginal women in Montreal. She invited anyone interested to share their ideas with the Network so that they can be presented to the government.

“If this money is not going to go to SIS, at least these ideas will be going to the government so that they can implement our ideas,” said Nakuset.

Among the marchers, Cree siblings Kevin and Melissa Brousseau marched side-by-side in solidarity.

“The biggest problem we have, if you look at the statistics, is that 60% of the culprits in these criminal acts are white men. This means a good percentage of them are Native men. It comes down to the way we treat our women in our communities, raising our daughters and taking care of them. Showing up here as a Native man is representative of what Native men need to do. It is up to us to do something,” said Kevin Brousseau.

Raymond Blackned from Waskaganish was also among the marchers. He was there remembering Tera Fay Grace Jolly, whose life was cut short at 16 after being brutally murdered in the community in 2009.

“It was terrible. Just standing here today really brings me back to how our society treats women,” said Blackned.

At the same time, in light of Valentine’s Day, Blackned attended the march out of love for his wife and two daughters, saying he knew that today there would be men out there missing their loved ones.

“Even though I am a man, I have to stand up and show support and respect to women – it is something we need to do more often. These things would happen less often if men showed more respect towards women,” said Blackned.