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Eduardo Balaquit was born in 1959 in the Philippines. High school lovers, he met his best friend and future wife, Lumie, in 1972. They were married eight years later.
In 1979, Lumie immigrated to Canada, sponsoring Eduardo and bringing him to Winnipeg for them to begin their new life. A few years after that, their first son Erwin was born, and shortly after, their son, Edward.
The Balaquits have always been an incredibly close family - they spend time celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and making countless memories together. Eduardo loved his wife deeply, driving her to work every day and picking her up again once she was finished. Going into the summer of 2018, he was loving his position as a cleaner, was rocking his side gig as a DJ for weddings and socials, and was excited about his son’s upcoming wedding.
Then on June 4, 2018, Eduardo disappeared from his job. It quickly became apparent that foul play had occurred. The following sleepless months were spent desperately searching for some sign he was still alive. However, Eduardo was not seen or heard from again.
Despite Eduardo never having been found, enough evidence was gathered to lay large charges. Four years after his disappearance, the court process got underway for the man accused of his murder. Suspended in their grief, the Balaquits still hoped that Eduardo was alive… but knew he was gone.
The six-week-long jury trial began in May of 2022. Due to COVID restrictions that were in place, only three individuals were allowed to attend proceedings in person. The remainder of the Balaquit's large extended family, often twenty or more people, gathered at Candace House where a live stream was set up to allow for other family members to be able to listen in together.
“It's not a positive experience being in court as the victim. It's a lot of the unknowns that made it more of a suffocating atmosphere for us. I mean, although I was there with my mom, brother, and wife, you still felt like you're alone when you're dealing with all these emotions individually even though you're there together.”
Adding to this difficult experience of attending court on their own, Eduardo’s wife and two sons all took the witness stand to testify to the loving person they knew Eduardo to be.
“Going into court itself there was a lot of unknowns. What are we going to be doing, what are we going to see, how long will this take. We went there to witness the trial and also be witnesses, to testify in trial. Mentally, it was not easy. We learned things we wanted to know but was difficult to hear… You're sitting there trying to be composed while also being in front of the person accused of doing this to your family.”
This stress only heightened when three days into the 6-week long trial members of the jury tested positive for COVID. It was decided the trial would break for 5 days and then attempt to reconvene. The Balaquit family, Candace House staff, the Victim Services Worker, and Crown lawyers gathered at Candace House to debrief over lunch.
Everyone was deflated and disappointed, especially as there was a very real concern that the trial could be canceled and rescheduled for the following year. Together, though, we 'broke bread', and took time to connect, build relationships, and discuss the next steps to ensure the Balaquits had all the information and support they needed to get through the unknowns. A week later, following another delay due to a snowstorm, the trial once again got underway.
The Balaquits began to settle into a routine, meeting at Candace House every morning for coffee and what became a must-have favorite, cream cheese cinnamon buns. Then Lumie, Edward, and Erwin would head off to court with staff, while the rest of the family would settle in to listen to the morning proceedings. Some would sip tea on the couch and others would curl up under a blanket on the recliner. Another family member, a graphic novel artist, would set up at the dining room table, and over the course of the trial completed her book.
During lunch, everyone would gather over a meal provided by Candace House, helping reduce the practical and financial burden that families are otherwise left alone to carry.
“Finding lunch, I mean it sounds like such a small thing but it's actually a pretty big thing. You don't know what you want until you need it. And food is a pretty big need for self-care. They made sure we ate and we didn’t have to pay for that expense.”
It also happened to be that Eduardo’s birthday and his and Lumie’s wedding anniversary fell in the middle of the trial. Chatting with the family, Candace House staff asked if they would like to recognize these dates, knowing the complicated emotions. After further conversations, a cake was ordered and together we remembered Eduardo.
Unfortunately during the trial three other homicide matters were proceeding at the same time. Because of this, Candace House did not have enough room and was unable to accommodate the various families every day, including the Balaquit family.
"There was a couple of days that we didn't have access to Candace House. And you don’t realize how much stress you get from being in court until you don't get the help from a place like Candace House. We didn’t have a place to release that stress of being in court. Anytime it was a recess, we just stayed in the courtroom. At lunchtime, we didn’t have time to think about anything. We had to go straight to find a lunch, get the lunch, and straight back kind of thing and hopefully you're in time for the next witness."
The exhaustion from constantly reliving the loss hit like a tidal wave. Candace House worked hard to create a safe refuge to recognize and honour the many expressions of the Balaquit's family grief – offering a soft place to fall, space for the Balaquit family to cry, share memories, laugh loudly, and give and receive all the love there was to offer.
As the jury finally began their deliberations several weeks later, everyone huddled together at Candace House, anxiously waiting. When the call came that a verdict had been reached, all the breath left the room. Tears of stress and fear flowed as we walked to court. Then as the jury read out the guilty verdict, tears of relief mixed with deep pain - No matter what the verdict, Eduardo was not coming back.
A few months later following the sentencing arguments, the Balaquit family invited Candace House staff out for lunch with them. A time to once again share in each other’s company. Since then, Candace House staff has continued to connect with Eduardo’s family, offering care, support, and developing a growing friendship.
At a news conference announcing the plans to expand Candace House, Edward reflected on his family's experience at Candace House and what it means to expand.
"We heard that other families wanted to also access the support. Unfortunately, they [Candace House] didn’t have the space at that time. We don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Just knowing that they were turned away, and picturing ourselves in that situation, that made it really difficult for us. You don't want others to not get the support that's needed.
What we hope is that other than this not happening to anyone else, our same loss, is that they don’t get turned away, any more families. The process of being in trial as a victim's family is a very heavy experience... you're just exhausted all the time.
Candace House does a lot of the support to make sure that a lot of this stress is alleviated from you. We really do thank them for everything they’ve done for us. With them getting another space I know that more families will be able to benefit from their care.”
We are so grateful to the Balaquit family for being willing to share their story and experiences with us and Candace House supporters, and for the countless ways they continue to give back to other families through their generosity and kindness.