Vigils being held in memory of Eishia Hudson, 16, who was fatally shot by Winnipeg police a year ago

About 300 people attended a vigil in Winnipeg to honour a 16-year old girl who was fatally shot by a Winnipeg police officer a year ago Thursday.

Memorials are being held in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax Thursday evening to honour the life of Eishia Hudson, who died on April 8, 2020.

 The family is doing “fairly well,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

“I commend their tireless efforts to continue elevating this issue and ensuring that no one forgets what happened with Eishia a year ago.” 

In the late afternoon of April 8, 2020, Winnipeg police were following a vehicle that had been reported stolen, and the occupants of which were involved in a liquor store robbery in the Sage Creek neighbourhood. But as they were following, the vehicle reversed into the police cruiser and a chase ensued.

Shortly after 5:30 p.m., police stopped the vehicle at the intersection of Lagimodiere Boulevard and Fermor Avenue. Police were arresting the occupants when one officer fired his gun at the driver, Eishia Hudson. She was shot in the chest and died.

An autopsy report later determined that Hudson died from the gunshot wound and her death was labelled a homicide.

Ahead of the event Thursday night, organizers hung red ribbons around the circle, a colour associated with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

There was also a large mural painted by local Cree, Saulteaux, Ukranian artist Annie Beach, that was painted in Eishia’s favourite colour — lavender. People at the vigil were invited to pin lavender cloth flowers to the mural. 

Drum groups and powwow dancers performed, and several people walked around the crowd with smudge bowls. 

“We’re here tonight to show our love, our comfort and our compassion to the family. And we’re doing it in ceremony. We gather in ceremony whenever we have memorials,” said elder Gerry Shingoose, who opened the vigil with a prayer.

“I know that Eishia liked to paint, and I know that she liked to spend time with her friends, but most of all she liked to spend a lot of time with her family.

“She was outgoing, she was a happy youth, and we’re here today to honour her … [it] was a young life taken … that should have never happened.”

Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and MP Leah Gazan also spoke at the event.

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, one of Manitoba’s police oversight agencies, opened a case into the incident, but the final investigation report released Jan. 28, 2021, cleared the officer involved of any wrongdoing.

Manitoba’s chief medical examiner has since called an inquest into Hudson’s death. The fatality inquest will examine the circumstances surrounding how the teen died and will offer recommendations to avoid similar outcomes in the future — but it cannot assign blame.

The Manitoba government publicly released an external review of the Police Services Act — which was launched long before Hudson was killed — in November of last year. It made 70 recommendations to improve policing and police oversight in Manitoba. A bill was introduced to the legislature shortly after with proposed amendments to the legislation.

The proposal was supposed to be reviewed during the current legislative sitting, but Cameron Friesen, who took over as justice minister this year after a cabinet shuffle, decided to hold on to the proposed legislation to do more consultation with Indigenous leadership. He cited Hudson’s death and the ensuing IIU report as part of his reasoning.

The greater Indigenous community in Manitoba is still feeling the impact of Hudson’s death, said Dumas.

“There’s a lot of discomfort,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there was a lot of questions more so than answers that came from that [IIU] report. There’s a lot of effort that we have done through the advocacy at the assembly to develop a more comprehensive and more unbiased process on how those reports are completed.”

The vigil honour of Eishia Hudson in Winnipeg starts at 5 p.m. CT. It is being hosted at the MMIWG2S monument and Odena Circle at The Forks. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The AMC has had constructive conversations with Friesen and has pushed for greater civilian oversight and transparency of the IIU and police oversight, he said.

At the same time, Dumas is disappointed it took the death of a 16-year-old girl to spark a desire for greater change, because it isn’t a new issue. Dumas cited the deaths of J.J. Harper and Helen Betty Osborne as examples.

With regards to Thursday’s vigils, Dumas says it’s important to acknowledge the tragedy that occurred, but also that Eishia Hudson “left a legacy, and that we have to endeavour to try and correct and fix things so that those types of tragedies are made more minimal in the future.”

The vigil in Winnipeg was held at the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited monument at The Forks, and attendees were asked to adhere to public health guidelines.

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