Thursday, March 15, 2007

'Nina would be so proud' Albertans march to end violence


Hundreds of Albertans whose lives were devastated by violence marched on the Alberta Legislature Saturday to make their voices heard.

The march kicked off at City Hall, where petitions were circulated calling for stiffer penalties under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Tears flowed and strangers embraced in condolence, all sharing the knowledge of what it’s like to lose a loved one through an act of senseless violence.

“It does my heart good to see so many other families come out and offer their support,” said Peacha Atkinson, whose 13-year-old daughter Nina Courtepatte was found raped and murdered on a golf course west of Edmonton on April 3, 2005.

“Nina would be so proud (of the rally) because she wouldn’t stand for injustice. She was a believer in doing what was right.”

Heather Airth-Prior was collecting signatures on Atkinson’s petition. Her own son, 36-year-old Barry Starr, was stabbed to death at a party four years ago.

“The violence is everywhere,” she said. “There are so many people being hurt and injured and people are so quick to turn to violence. It’s just so, so sad.”

Rally organizer Gary Hunt collected about 45,000 petition signatures to send to Ottawa after his 16-year-old son Josh Hunt was slain at a house party Oct. 14 last year.

His was just one of many petitions circulating Saturday.

“We said we’re going to do something about (youth violence) and we’re going to make many changes,” Hunt told rally attendees after they arrived at the legislature, adding their voices are being heard across the country. “The changes are coming and you’re going to see it really soon.”

Edmonton-Mill Woods MP Mike Lake will be delivering the petitions to Parliament. He applauded the families’ efforts.

“Because of what they’re doing, all Canadians are paying attention to the issue of youth violence,” he said. “Because of what they’re doing, more parents are paying attention to their kids and more people are saying ‘I love you.’”

Edmonton Eskimo J.R. LaRose said it’s upsetting to see the violence that is plaguing his hometown.

“It’s very sad,” he said, adding he thinks youth today need to establish their own identities rather than being influenced by what they see in music videos and on TV. “You don’t need to be going out and killing people and doing something stupid like that. Be the bigger person and walk away.”

Grant McGillis, whose 20-year-old son Dylan McGillis was swarmed, beaten and fatally stabbed in an unprovoked attack on Whyte Avenue last Nov. 19, is also calling for further measures to fight violent crime.

“We and the other families that are here today all share a common bond,” he said. “We all lost children to senseless violence and we all thought it would never happen to us.”

Last week, McGillis hand-delivered a letter to federal Attorney General Robert Nicholson, calling for dispute resolution education for youth, better rehabilitation programs and new correctional facilities to address overcrowding.

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