Imagine being sent to a strange place for the first time.
You arrive to find you don’t understand the language, customs or rules. You don’t know where you’re supposed to go or what you’re supposed to do.
You also don’t know anyone, and there’s no way of knowing whether the people you meet in this foreign place are here to help or hurt you.
And now imagine that the only reason you’re even here is to re-live your worst nightmare in excruciating detail again and again.
For victims, survivors, and loved ones impacted by violent crime, this is reality.
With twenty-five to forty deaths by homicide or driving offense taking place in our community every year, the impact for the hundreds of families and loved ones affected over the past few decades is staggering.
But numbers don’t begin do justice to the unimaginable pain…
Parents, spouses and partners, siblings, children and friends go through gut-wrenching, can’t-breathe-can’t-think-can’t-focus trauma when they lose a loved one to shocking violence.
The world as they previously knew it is gone, never to return.
On Easter Weekend of 2000, our daughter, Cory, 20-years-old, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend…We took our grandson into our care the same day that Cory’s body was found stuffed under a cottage.
My wife went into a deep depression soon after Cory’s death, angry at God for allowing this tragedy to befall our family. She reached an all-time low in 2004. She was put on medical leave, never to return to her chosen profession as an intensive care nurse.
By early 2007, our careers were decimated, increasing the anxiety level in our struggle to support our grandchild.
And the struggle doesn’t end there.
Loved ones already coping with the effects of this loss are now thrown into the long, arduous and unchosen journey through the criminal justice system and court process. A journey that last months, and sometimes years.
Others take over telling the story of their loved one’s life, with families left to observe.
Even after a verdict may be reached, appeals, re-trials, and parole board hearings can continue.
And while grieving this loss is hard enough, repeatedly hearing details about the event means victims are hurled back into the chaos of first hearing about the death.
Our son was killed by an impaired driver who then fled the scene and left him to die. I think people need to understand what victims go through. First, finding out what happened. Then, waiting for the justice system to do its work. Which itself was a shock. We had no idea what we were about to go through. The talks with the Crown, hearing all the details surrounding what took place, and then finding out most of it can’t even be used in court.
The effect on our family of having to go through a preliminary hearing, postponements, the trial itself, and then sentencing was profound- the tears, the depression. And while the person who killed our son was found guilty, we will never have “closure.” My son is dead.
The courthouse has little that indicates support and comfort.
Victims stand in line with strangers and pass through airport type security. All around, grey stone, cold cement, large echoing hallways, and hard furniture. It’s a place that instills fear and anxiety.
It’s hard to find a safe place to take a break or wait during adjournments to cry, laugh, be sick, decompress or just “be human.” There’s no private space to participate in healing and sacred traditions or ceremonies.
And even something as simple as finding lunch or a snack is hard. It becomes expensive to dine out, and there aren't many places to eat food brought from home.
During jury trials, deliberations can take hours to days. Loved ones wanting to be present for the verdict must stay close, as the courts will not wait for their return. While the judge returns to their chambers, lawyers go back to their offices, and the accused goes back to their holding cell, victims are left to wander and wait in the halls or washrooms.
And to top it all off, after a day spent in court, victims have no access to a comforting place to try and understand what just happened, to ask questions, to find answers, or to just feel utterly broken.
While attending the trial for one of people who murdered my son, I had to leave the courtroom- the testimony too difficult to hear. But where do I go? I have to go sit in the marble hallway with sheriffs and prisoners in shackles and chains walking right by me. It’s the most intimidating place to be.
So, I laid down on the bench because of tremendous back pain caused by the stress of grieving and court, and by accident I fell asleep. I awoke to security asking me to leave, apparently, they thought I wasn't supposed to be there.
So, whose story is this?
Who are the mothers, fathers, partners, spouses, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons, that continue to face such overwhelming challenges after having had loved ones ripped from their lives?
It could be you.
No one chooses to be a victim of violent crime. The loss of a loved one because of homicide or driving offense could happen to you, your family, your friends, your colleagues, or your neighbours.
Nothing can take away the pain of having a loved one murdered, nor can the outcome of court be controlled. But with your gift we can create a first of its kind place to offer victims support and comfort.
With you, Candace House is the future.
Every day, Candace House will welcome guests. Victims, survivors, and loved ones, all affected by violent crime, will now have a place to take “take their shoes off” and receive emotional support, information, and access to services and programs they need.