By Holly McKenzie-Sutter

THE CANADIAN PRESS

A tribute to the 22 Nova Scotians who died in one of Canada’s deadliest mass killings will stream on Facebook on Friday night.

The vigil, titled Nova Scotia Remembers,” will include messages of support from local and national faces as an alternative to a physical ceremony while the COVID-19 pandemic forces limitations on crowds.

It will be livestreamed from the Colchester-Supporting Our Communities Facebook page at 7 p.m. local time, with CBC, CTV and several radio stations carrying the broadcast.

Premier Stephen McNeil said he would wear a Nova Scotia tartan at home in remembrance of the victims, adding he hoped the virtual gathering would capture the spirit of a kitchen party with conversation and music.

“I’m sorry this has to be a virtual gathering. And that the physical connection of a hug is not possible. But you will still feel the love and the warmth in this tribute,” McNeil said.

“My hope is that everyone who watches will feel like they are gathering around the table and listening to some remarkable stories about some remarkable people.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged Canadians to join the vigil remotely and to wear red in solidarity.

“Let’s come together to support these communities who suffered immeasurable loss,” Trudeau said. “Let’s celebrate the lives of those who left us too soon, and let us remember the families, friends, loved ones whose absence will linger for years, and lives.”

A group of local residents, all with personal connections to the victims, have spent the week gathering recorded tributes from politicians, spiritual leaders, musicians and other familiar Nova Scotian faces.

Tiff Ward, one of the event organizers, says the aim is not to dwell on the horrors of the weekend.

It’s to show grieving families that their community is with them in spirit while unable to drop off meals, hug each other or honour the dead by holding memorials.

“They matter to all of us and they matter to the world, and we want to show them the love that we have,” Ward said in a telephone interview.

Ward, like most residents of the tightly knit area, anxiously followed updates about the situation as it unfolded on Saturday and Sunday. She later learned several people she knew personally had been killed.

As horrific details emerged Sunday about the massacre that claimed lives across five communities, the new Facebook group became a space for people to grieve and process the loss together.

The idea for a vigil quickly grew out of the digital gathering. Trudeau acknowledged his plan to attend the next day, while noting the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“I know that everyone will be looking for ways to demonstrate their solidarity without putting further at risk communities, first responders, our health professionals and our seniors,” Trudeau said Monday.

Ward said the community can’t be defined by the terrible acts of a man who set fire to homes and shot people dead during a 14-hour rampage.

“This is just the most peaceful, smallest, gentlest, kindest place in the world. And a monster has shattered that,” Ward said. “We have to bring a lot of light to shine out this awful darkness.”

The National Police Federation asked people to wear red Friday as part of a day of mourning for the victims, including RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, who was killed during the chase.

The RCMP held a moment of silence with members across the country at 2 p.m. for Const. Stevenson and the other victims, joined by other police forces.

The past week has seen other examples of physically distant memorializing. Photos shared on the Facebook group from Nova Scotia and beyond show candles lit in windowsills and the provincial flag hanging in windows.

Municipalities and police forces across the country have flown flags at half-mast this week to honour the victims.

Richard Mills, acting U.S. ambassador to Canada, said Thursday that he had ordered flags to be lowered to half-mast in honour of Stevenson and the other victims, noting the close relationship between the U.S. government and the RCMP.

“RCMP officers provide an essential security service to our embassy and consulates across Canada. We appreciate their service,” he said.

 

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