It wasn’t a look of surprise, but more of an understanding as Chantae Garland realized she had more in common with Rehtaeh Parsons than she probably thought.
Rehtaeh died five years ago on April 7. The Nova Scotia teen was taken off life support following a suicide attempt just three days before.
Two years before that she had been the victim of an alleged rape by four boys. Pictures of the incident were circulated through social media and Rehtaeh also became a victim of online bullying.
As Garland and fellow Memorial University medical school student Amy Powell were waiting for the start of a memorial walk for Rehtaeh in Corner Brook on Saturday afternoon she was asked her age.
“Twenty-two,” she replied, not thinking much of it.
But then it was pointed out that Rehtaeh, who was 17 when she died, would now be 22, the same age as Garland.
“It just feels,” she said and stopped as the thought sunk in.
“I’ve just started my life, I feel like, getting into med school.”
Rehtaeh’s death, she said was a waste of potential.
“And it’s just unfortunate that it happened, that somebody’s life was taken so soon and she never had a chance to really get to know who she was herself.”
Garland and Powell were among 19 people who walked in the second annual walk to be held by the Corner Brook Status of Women Council in Rehtaeh’s memory.
Despite the cold temperatures and slight wind the group walked from the court house on Mount Bernard Avenue to city hall on West Street.
Garland is from Caplin Cove and Powell is from Port au Choix. The medical students, who attend university in St. John’s, are in the city on a two-week community visit, meeting with groups and organizations to learn about what they do.
They heard about the walk for Rehtaeh while at the Corner Brook Women’s Centre on Friday.
“The whole point of our education here is to get involved with the community and community engagement,” said Garland.
And she feels strongly about getting as involved in the community as they possibly can.
Even if it had not been for her studies, she said the walk is something she would have gotten involved with anyway.
“It’s hard to believe that stuff like that is still happening,” she said.
“Clearly there’s still a need to raise awareness on causes such as this.”
Powell, 27, said she had heard about Rehtaeh’s story when it happened and it is something that is talked about a lot in school.
It’s also a story that people seem connected to and as young women, she said it was important for her and Garland to take part in the walk, because like her classmate she feels there still needs to be a lot of awareness raised around the issues of sexual violence and harassment that women face.
“I think that as women there’s always a bit of worry.”
She said that’s something they talked about during their visit to the women’s centre, including how some women are afraid to walk alone at night and feel afraid at functions they may attend at night for fear of becoming a victim.
“I think that even though we’ve come a long way in the last few years there’s still sometimes that worry in the back of your mind. It’s something that everyone kind of thinks about still,” she said.
She said the walk helps in that it brings awareness to Rehtaeh’s story and the issues and also shows that Corner Brook is a strong community.
“People seem to be connected to that story, but also to organizations like the Women’s Centre that are putting off functions like this,” she said.