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Gone Too Soon: New exhibit portrays 'river of grief'

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A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) turns mothers' grief into advocacy.

"Gone Too Soon" is on display now at CMHR's Community Corridor.

It features hundreds of purple poppies in the form of a flowing river. It represents the many thousands of people who died from a toxic drug supply in Canada.

"These are all people who were loved, are missed, and not forgotten. We have not forgotten, and this is grief. This is a river of grief," said Janis Gillam, one of the exhibit's co-creators.

Gillam's daughter Phoebe died of fentanyl poisoning in July 2020. Her partner's son died only four months later, also from toxic drugs.

"I do this for Phoebe and, of course, for everyone else who's in the same position, and to bring awareness to people. It can happen to anyone."

The Gone Too Soon exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is pictured on June 15, 2024. (Joseph Bernacki/CTV News Winnipeg)

The poppies were made at an April 2024 Manitoba Harm Reduction Network meeting. Their petals bear the messages of the community to their loved ones who died too soon.

Arlene Last-Kolb's son Jessie died at 24 years old from a fentanyl overdose poisoning in July 2014.

She said the exhibit is her way of advocating for change from legislators.

"We want a safe supply. The messages are our way of telling the federal government and Prime Minister Trudeau that we want a safe, regulated supply. We want it across Canada," she said.

According to Manitoba's Chief Medical Examiner, there were 89 suspected substance-related deaths in January and February of 2024, which outpaced the same time frame in 2023.

There were 445 suspected drug-related deaths that year, and 467 in 2022.

These deaths are a human rights issue, says Hayley Caldwell CMHR’s interpretive program developer.

"We know that people who use drugs are entitled to basic human rights, and often because of stigmatization, lack of resources, they're denied these basic human rights," said Hayley Caldwell, CMHR's interpretive program developer.

The "Gone Too Soon" exhibit can be viewed free of charge during the museum's hours of operation.

- With files from CTV's Joseph Bernacki and Danton Unger

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