Legacy of social justice activist immortalized with plaque
CORNWALL, Ontario – A tearful ceremony commemorated the countless efforts of a social justice activist who suffered from bipolar disorder.
Family and friends paid tribute to Denise Vernier during a plaque unveiling in her name, installed in Lamoureux Park, at the foot of Augustus Street.
The plaque is dedicated by the S D & G Coalition for Social Justice, a non-profit group that Vernier belonged to.
“This is a very happy day for the memory of Denise,” said Michael Vernier, her former husband of 23 years. “It means a lot because her efforts to make people aware of the impacts of poverty were noticed.”
The recognition of Vernier’s past role as an avid activist for Ontario Works (OW), the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and minimum wage earners rights took a few years to surface. The Cornwall woman had gone missing on Sept. 19, 2010, and her body was tragically found months later.
“It was a surprise when I heard about it, I thought it was forgotten, but it wasn’t. People still remember that she did the best she could to help those in poverty and fight for their rights,” said Michael.
Elaine MacDonald, S D & G Coalition for Social Justice president, spoke during the plaque unveiling about the tireless efforts Vernier made to organize change for those living in poverty. MacDonald said Vernier founded the S D & G Action Coalition on ODSP, actively petitioned for disability rights and was named Cornwall and District Labour Council’s community activist of the year.
Amongst all the heartfelt speeches given for Vernier, MacDonald quoted from a tribute provided to her from Lori Taylor, former chair of the S D & G Coalition for Social Justice.
“Denise’s advocacy work and petition allowed people to look in the face of those struggling to make ends meet and those working tirelessly to change unjust conditions,” said Taylor. “When Denise was there, people could not look away and ignore the issues.”
The location of the plaque in Lamoureux Park holds a sentimental value to Michael, who was teary eyed as people expressed their profound respect for a “community champion.”
“We always walked this park together,” said Michael. “This was our favourite spot whenever she was stressful.”
After the brief ceremony, nearly 20 people attended a light lunch at the RCAF Wing 424 to further discuss Vernier’s legacy.