Members of Anne Marie D’Amico’s family, including mother Carmela, centre, and dad Rocco (second from left), take part in the unveiling of the community collective named after their sister and daughter. Photo courtesy D’Amico family

Van attack victim’s light still shines

  • October 10, 2021

The memory of Yonge Street van attack victim Anne Marie D’Amico and her positive and helping ways have been honoured with the North York Women’s Shelter unveiling a new building bearing her name.

The innovative new community hub, revealed on Sept. 28, will support women and children escaping violence and will stand as a permanent reminder of D’Amico’s humanitarian legacy and striving to help those in need. This clinic will provide medical care, harm reduction support, counselling, system navigation and wellness support through a system designed to be more accessible than ever to marginalized groups.

D’Amico was one of 10 people killed in the tragedy that took place on April 23, 2018 with a killer who targeted women. For her brother Nick D’Amico, as painful as the incident has been for the family, the Anne Marie D’Amico Community Collective stands as a sign and a symbol that the light of who his sister was will continue to shine and bring healing and refuge to many in need.

“My sister very much tried to be a part of people’s lives in a positive way and tried to help as many people as she could,” said Nick. “I think the Community Collective is an incredible space because it gives the community an opportunity to kind of reach more women and children by providing these resources. I think it kind of embodies who she was as a person. It’s kind of a perfect way to have the legacy continue.”

D’Amico was laid to rest on May 2, 2018 after a funeral service at St. Clare’s Roman Catholic Church in midtown Toronto. The 30-year-old was a volunteer with Tennis Canada and many other worthy causes and had a passion for change and positivity that served as an example for many.

Shortly after the tragedy, the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation was launched by the D’Amico family as a way to move forward and keep her memory alive. The vision of the foundation is for all women and children to live free of violence. The Turtle Project is the pinnacle event commemorating the foundation’s efforts each year on Dec. 3, D’Amico’s birthday.

The foundation has already raised over half of its million-dollar goal to support the North York Women’s Shelter since the inaugural fundraiser in 2019. In addition to raising money for the foundation, the event is a platform to bring awareness and shift social and cultural norms through partnership with organizations and individuals that share the vision.

The pandemic has brought a lot of issues to the forefront and violence against women is definitely one of them, says Shereen McFarlane, program manager with Catholic Family Services in Toronto. With resources limited in shelters due to the need for social distancing measures and reluctance from those in need to engage with services due to fears around contracting the virus, COVID-19 has exasperated an already challenging issue.

Initiatives like the Anne Marie D’Amico Community Collective and other legacy projects aimed at combating violence against women are important as they continue to look for ways to keep the issue salient in public discourse. Any assistance in bringing newness to this horrible situation that continues to exist is a positive thing.

“There needs to be more memorial (projects) until somehow we eradicate the whole issue of gender-based violence,” said McFarlane.

“We constantly have to bring awareness because like with anything it becomes old news. Sometimes you have to refresh the issue so people see it.”

McFarlane says the various events surrounding the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women each year on Dec. 6 along with momentum brought on by the MeToo Movement has been helpful in raising awareness.

“We have to be hopeful,” said McFarlane. “Sometimes it’s just the little wins that makes us feel like we’ve won in this case. Hope is the only factor that helps us keep going as we continue to find ways to make the situation better. The vision of eradicating violence is what drives us and we have to keep that focus.”

D’Amico’s brother credits their mother, Carmela, and her relentless drive for everything the family has accomplished to preserve Anne Marie’s legacy. The D’Amico family’s steadfast faith that good can come from tragedy has been the light motivating them through the darkness of the tragedy.

“We lost my sister, but we don’t have to forget her, we don’t have to forget who she was,” said Nick. “More than that, we can bring those positive qualities that she had to society and to people around us and really use that as motivation to keep going.

“I miss my sister every day and now she’s taken on a very different place in my life. She has become someone we rally our inner spirits around to keep all the good things moving forward. I think for us it’s all the wonderful qualities that she had that keep us motivated to keep going and to keep this thing transforming from something so devastating to something more beautiful.”

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