April Wiberg, 38, will always hate the smell of baby oil.
More than 20 years after a traumatising encounter with a man twice her age at a “trick pad” operating under the cover of a massage parlour in Edmonton, Alberta, she is still triggered by that smell.
“I will never forget the first guy,” she says, a distant expression momentarily settling upon her dark brown eyes.
April is visiting her good friend at her apartment near downtown Edmonton on a frigid winter afternoon. Sonya Purcell’s home represents comfort for April. The two have spent countless hours together, some of them organising events to advocate for the safety of Indigenous women and girls.
Sonya knows April’s story well. She knows it is full of hardship and redemption.
April wrings her hands nervously. “I will never forget the smell of baby oil,” she says, then takes a deep breath and refocuses.
“His hair: parted. Middle-aged. Blue-collar type.”
He would not take his eyes off her, she explains.
“That look in his eyes … He knew I was terrified, and he did it anyway.”
‘To numb my pain’
April is Cree from Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta but grew up in southern Saskatchewan, a province directly east of Alberta. She came from what she describes as a “broken, dysfunctional” home and experienced sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse growing up.
Her mother was absent for most of her childhood, dealing with the trauma of her own childhood spent in Canada’s residential school system, which ripped Indigenous children from their families and cultures and often subjected them to abuse and neglect.
April’s father, who was not Indigenous, raised her and her sister in a small town to the best of his ability. But there was always chaos, she says.