Family Impact Excerpt from ‘Canada Unsolved’ article
“Vanessa and her family moved out of the area last year. She now lives in a rural part of Nova Scotia. “After Jason died, that place got a little rundown, people moved out of there,” she says. “The rumours started flying [about] what happened.”
Eventually, the city put in a family co-op to house low-income families. “There’s mostly children around there now,” says Clark, adding “back then it wasn’t.” Clark says it took “about five or six years” for the city to clean up the area. They started fixing the buildings. They renamed the park in Jason’s honour.
When it was first re-named, Clark said it didn’t take long for someone to vandalize the sign. “They replaced it instantly,” she says. “So, after a while they did start taking care of it, because I think the community was sick of the constant garbage… like other people have been killed in that area too and those have been solved. So I think the community was just tired of having that hang over their head.”
She still meets people who mention the park in Highfield. When she asks if they’re talking about the one named after her cousin, people are sometimes surprised to hear what happened. “They never heard the story and they never knew about that being so close to home and in their own backyard.”
Jason is never far from her mind. “When I lived right in Halifax, it was always on my mind. I didn’t want my kids going very far from home because something could happen.”
Jason’s passing had “put a huge scare into the family” and changed the way Vanessa’s parents raised her and her younger brother, who was too young to remember Jason. Vanessa says her mother always kept him close to home. Vanessa wasn’t allowed to go out after dark. “Even when I was 15, 16, up until I moved out, I wasn’t allowed out after dark unless she knew exactly where I was and when I was coming home,” she says.
“We never… we weren’t expecting it, and then all of a sudden something that my cousins did all the time was now something that was dangerous.” Jason’s murder has also impacted the way Vanessa has raised her own kids. “I think it always will.” She hopes it impacts them too, if or when they have children of their own.
She says that when her eldest was old enough to go play with her friends, she felt nervous to let her go off on her own. She still feels nervous. “It’s not that I’m scared something will happen to them, it’s that… the idea is that you never know when something could happen and to always be careful.”
The world is unrecognizable compared to the one Jason left two decades ago. While the family and community support for Jason has been unwavering, it is in the context of a more complex and tragic world. Events like the April 2020 attacks in Portapique, NS, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have created a divide between past and present.
“[It] sometimes makes it seem like your problems aren’t as bad as everything else,” she says. “Sometimes you think about Jason’s murder compared to Portapique… it happened so long ago, you know what I mean? Like, there’s still awareness to it. But now everyone’s look is more on what’s happening now with COVID, with the shooting and everything going on,” she says. “It’s hard to kind of remember what happened 20 years ago or even want to talk about what happened 20 years ago.”