Editor’s note: This editorial has been edited from the published version. The family of Cassidy Bernard contends they have not been contacted by the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner’s Office. The Reporter sincerely apologizes for the error.
The outpouring of support that has arisen in the wake of the sudden death of 22-year-old Cassidy Bernard of the We’koqma’q First Nation, is heart-warming.
Shortly before 11 a.m. on October 24, Waycobah RCMP responded to a call at a home on Highway 105 in the First Nation community. Police found a woman in the residence who was non-responsive.
Two infant children were also in the home at the time of the incident but the children were not harmed and are being cared for by family members.
Police called the incident a suspicious death and do not believe it was a random act. RCMP investigators said they have received some information from the public.
The Nova Scotia Medical Examiner’s Service conducted an examination into the circumstances of her death late last month.
A cousin of the deceased says the morning of October 24 will be forever etched into her memory and will permanently haunt her family. Annie Bernard-Daisley, a three-term band councillor with We’koqma’q First Nation, said people have to start being more courageous and speak out on this issue.
Bernard-Daisley remembered her cousin as a firecracker, who was small in size but larger than life, who made an immediate and unforgettable impact on those she met. She also recalled how Bernard was proud of her Mi’kmaq culture, as a speaker and singer of the language.
But more than a month after Bernard’s death, the RCMP is still unable to publicly release her name or update the case.
But hot on the heels of the #justiceforcassidy campaign that hit social media this month, Bernard-Daisley also launched the #floodfacebookforcassidy initiative, which invites women to post pictures of themselves in red dresses on Facebook to maintain awareness of her cousin’s death and its aftermath.
The initiative will see red dresses – a nationally-recognized symbol for the death and disappearance of indigenous women – hanging in windows and showing up at prominent public landmarks, across Cape Breton including the Canso Causeway.
On November 21, more than 400 demonstrators gathered on the Cape Breton side of the Canso Causeway, including members from all five First Nation communities.
Mona Bernard, Cassidy’s mother said her daughter was a beautiful, young mother and it was just so sad how left the world.
We’koqma’q First Nation Chief Rod Googoo said they want to keep the light shining on missing and murdered Indigenous women because it’s happening on a daily basis.
The rally came just one day after We’koqma’q Band Council announced a $100,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Cassidy’s death.
Googoo said in each and every case of missing and murdered Indigenous women, someone knows something and the band council felt that as a leadership within their community they have to step up and show they’re willing to do whatever it takes to solve this case.
While it is understandable that during an investigation of this importance law enforcement would proceed with caution, going a month after Bernard’s death to confirm her identity is frustrating.
Like the RCMP, the media is also mindful of the thousands of indigenous women who were too easily forgotten. Federal government figures list aboriginal women as making up 16 per cent of all missing and murdered women across Canada, even though they only make up four per cent of the total Canadian female population.
Without the needed information to keep the story alive, the family and supporters of Cassidy Bernard stepped up in a big way, with their social media pleas for justice, the red dress campaign, last week’s highly visible protest, and the reward from the band council, all of which helped keep the story going.
Along with this, hopefully the RCMP or Medical Examiner’s Office will be able to soon provide more information on this very important case.
Also, it is hoped that those with information will do the right thing and finally step forward to police or Crime Stoppers.
Keeping the story alive, not only helps raise awareness of violence against Indigenous women, but it can put pressure on those with information to share what they know, so that Bernard’s family and the community can find peace.
Someone out there knows something, and with this effort, the case of Cassidy Bernard stands a solid chance of being brought to justice.