Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Stuff of Legend: T/selling the Story of Reena Virk

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Stuff of Legend: T/selling the Story of Reena Virk

Article excerpt


This essay looks at texts that tell stories that claim to be "true," "based on," or "indebted to" the murder of Reena Virk. Girls in these stories are value-laden symbols that frame and reframe the story of girlhood identity within the Canadian nation in particular ways. I argue that these framings often obliterate the particularity of girlhood identities through which the nation might be understood as mired in histories of racialized and sexualized violence, through the creation of universal girl subjects whose identities better meet the needs of the publishing industry and its desired audiences. The texts in question--the play The Shape of a Girl (2001) by Joan MacLeod, the teen novel The Beckoners (2004) by Carrie Mac, and Under the Bridge (2005), a true crime novel by Rebecca Godfrey--explicitly reference Virk but their key characters are primarily white, Anglo girls. The stories are written in such a way that the experiences of second-generation immigrant youth in Canada are displaced onto universal girl subjects, disconnecting the murder from colonial oppression, misogyny, and white supremacy.


Cet essai porte sur des rapports d'histoires qui pretendent etre <>, <> ou <> au meurtre de Reena Virk. Les jeunes filles de ces histoires sont des symboles a fortes connotations qui cadrent et recadrent l'histoire de l'identite feminine adolescente de facon particuliere au sein de la nation canadienne. Je soutiens que les cadrages de ces identites effacent souvent leurs particularites chez les jeunes filles, alors que c'est par celles-ci que l'on peut comprendre la nation, telle que refletee dans des histoires de violence racialisee et sexualisee, et ce, par la creation d'exemplaires de l'adolescente universelle dont les identites repondent mieux aux besoins de l'industrie de la publicite et des audiences visees. Les textes en question - la piece de theatre The Shape of a Girl (2001) de Joan MacLeod, le roman pour adolescents The Beckoners (2004) de Carrie Mac et Under the Bridge (2005), l'histoire d'un vrai crime par Rebecca Godfrey - font explicitement reference a Virk, mais leurs personnages cles sont avant tout des Anglo-saxonnes blanches. Ces histoires sont ecrites de maniere a transferer les experiences de jeunes immigrant(e)s de deuxieme generation a des personnages de jeune filie universelle, en deconnectant le meurtre de l'oppression coloniale, de la misogynie et de la suprematie blanche.

"You're going to let them get away with this?" Leaf started pacing. "You could be dead! They could've killed you! You want to be another Reena Virk?"

--Carrie Mac (The Beckoners, 2004, 198).


In 1997 Reena Virk, the fourteen-year-old daughter of South Asian (2) immigrants who were also Jehovah's Witnesses, was murdered in a largely white suburb of Victoria, British Columbia. The press suggested that she faced peer group, family, and social struggles, but, as Tess Chakkalakal (2000) notes, Virk did not behave like someone cowed by her peers: "she acted as if she had power, as if she could do things that a girl of her size, colour, and ethnicity was clearly prohibited from doing" (163). This perspective, in which Reena Virk is presented as having agency, is absent from most accounts of her murder in favour of a view of Reena more in line with that of other stories of "teen bullying" or "girl violence" in which victims are overwhelmingly represented as shy, awkward, immobilized, and silent. But this universalizing impulse must be resisted in favour of narratives that "open the possibility for agency in the Reena Virk case;" Chakkalakal suggests that one way to start doing this is "by calling it [the Virk murder] by its proper name: a Canadian 1ynching" (165). Invoking a term so highly charged with racialized (and gendered) histories would potentially create a space flora which it would be much more difficult to evacuate the material body of Reena Virk than has been the case in most existing storytelling efforts. …

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