Betty Rourke joined dozens of other families and friends in Winnipeg to watch the emotional conclusion to the nearly three-year long National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Rourke is all too familiar with what commissioners from the national inquiry are calling a genocide.
Her sister Jennifer Johnston was killed in 1980.
(Betty Rourke shows a picture of her sister Jennifer that sits just outside the family viewing room.)
Rourke’s daughter Jennifer McPherson, who was named after her aunt, was murdered by her partner Traigo Andretti in British Columbia in 2013.
Police would later determine Andretti was also guilty of killing Myrna Letandre, who went missing in Winnipeg in 2006.
Her remains were found in a Winnipeg rooming house the same year McPherson was murdered.
Rourke believes her daughter would be alive if police took Letandre’s case seriously.
“If the police would have done their job [Andretti] wouldn’t have even been on the street. My daughter would never have met him,” said Rourke.
McPherson’s family joined the Letandre family to testify at the Winnipeg hearings in 2017.
Both families criticized the way police treat Indigenous women. It’s an issue Rourke says is still a problem today.
“Some of us are mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friend but no [police] don’t treat us that way,” she said. “They treat us as if we deserved to get what happened to us.”
(Jennifer McPherson was murdered by her partner in 2013.)
In the final report titled, “Reclaiming Power and Place” there are 25 recommendations relating to the justice system.
One of them calls for the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to, “include cases where there is a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse as murder in the first degree.”
Andretti was with first-degree murder in McPherson’s death but was charged with second-degree murder in connection to Letandre’s killing.
He pleaded guilty to both killings.
In 2016, he was found dead in a Saskatchewan psychiatric facility.
Rourke says she hopes all cases of intimate partner violence and abuse result in first-degree murder charges.
As opening ceremonies concluded organizers of the Winnipeg event began preparing activities for families.
Jasmine Smith, a program coordinator with Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services, wanted the day to end on a positive note.
She says families have been feeling a mix of emotions and it was important to provide a safe atmosphere to take in the final report.
“[Families] are glad that it’s over, glad to see the report…missing their loved ones,” she said.
“There’s lots of family members that don’t have that closure so being able to experience that in a safe place with other people that understand the grief is very important.”