Monday, August 27

How Lindsay Kines and Sun reporters broke missing women story

Vancouver Sun
Nov 6, 2002
Veteran Vancouver Sun reporter Lindsay Kines started covering the phenomenon of women missing from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in 1998, the first reporter to do so. The young women were all prostitutes, which is why they had not mattered very much before.

Tipped by a sister of one of the women, Kines dug into the story and his repeated questioning of police officials prompted them to step up their investigation that year.

Some of his earliest stories are linked below:

July 3, 1998Police target big increase in missing women: Serial killer not behind missing-women cases, police official says. Investigators will look into each incident to determine if there are any similarities

September 18, 1998Cases Probed: Vancouver police will review 40 unsolved cases dating from 1971, but they doubt a serial killer was involved in any disappearances

March 3, 199920 women missing: Action demanded

Missing on the Mean Streets-Part 1: Privilege, despair and death

Missing on the Mean Streets-Part 2: Who we will not see tomorrow

Kines dogged the story through the turn of the century, developing sources in the police who spoke of incomprehensible sloppiness and ineptitude in the police investigations of the missing sex-trade workers.

By 2001, frustrated with a lack of closure to the case, Kines and reporters Kim Bolan and Lori Culbert embarked on what would become a four-month joint investigation, taking a total of one year of journalistic man- and women-power. When they began their work, the reporters knew what police had revealed -- that 27 young women caught in the sex-and-drug culture of Vancouver's dismal downtown eastside had, during a number of years, vanished from the face of the earth.

When the reporters finished, they had themselves identified not 27 but 45.

The police had presented to the public an illusion of an aggressive, concerned investigation. The Sun's series of reports showed that, in fact, the investigative work had been flawed by lack of resources, petty conflicts among police officers, confused leadership and inexperience.

Their 11-part periodic series began in September, 2001 and ended in November.

The detective work The Sun team did set off other shock waves, which produced significant changes in the methods and attitudes of police to these unsolved crimes. In the aftermath of the series, the police established a joint RCMP-Vancouver Police Task Force and energized it with competent staff and financial resources. They gave a public commitment to the quick release of information on women who vanish. For the first time, they arranged meetings with the families of missing women, and set up a tip line.

Perhaps most importantly, the stories made a large number of murdered and missing prostitutes too important for either police or politicians to ignore.


Investigation turns up startling new numbers

How the police investigation was flawed, too few officers, police infighting and lack of experience undermined first probe into disappearances,_2001.htm

DNA samples are taken but not used: Coroner, police want data bank but B.C. has put it on hold,_2001.htm

Police didn’t pick up suspect who later murdered this woman: Family wants answers: ‘If they had arrested him earlier, maybe my sister wouldn’t be dead right now’

B.C. slow to adopt lessons of Bernardo: Police face obstacles tracking down serial predators

The lesson is: Every human life really matters: The case of the missing women means changes are needed

A killer’s slip-up gave police a break: Unlike other missing women on the East Side, police found April Reoch’s body

Sexual-predator case prompts police review

Police build a ‘bridge’ to victims’ families: Relatives of women missing from the Downtown Eastside invited to discuss case

600 suspects in missing women case: Families encouraged after meeting with investigators

Missing women story

Current Pickton Trial Coverage from The Vancouver Sun

INTERACTIVE -Very comprensive in coverage

Saturday, August 25

26 missing lives

Group says Saskatchewan hot spot for violence against women

Kerry Benjoe
Saskatchewan News Network; Regina Leader-Post

Saturday, August 25, 2007

REGINA -- Members of the Sisters in Spirit initiative say this province is a hot spot for racialized and sexualized violence.

The SIS initiative was started by the Native Women's Association of Canada and has done extensive research to identify areas in Canada where there's a high rate of missing and murdered aboriginal women, said Theresa Ducharme, a community development co-ordinator for SIS.

"I'm sad to say Regina is one of them as well as Saskatoon, so that's why we're here in Saskatchewan," said Ducharme, who can't explain why the numbers are so high.

On Friday the group was in Regina at the Gathering Place to speak about the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. SIS plans to host 10 similar workshops across Canada; the first was held in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

"We're here to educate. We're here to do prevention. We're here to give the tools to say, 'This is what you can do not only to prevent it but to raise awareness,' " Ducharme said.

She said it's important to raise awareness about the issue, and provided those in attendance with information and violence awareness tool kits. Ducharme said it's important to keep talking about the issue of violence against women because it's not getting better.

"This is like a genocide happening right under our nose and everyone is silent about it," said Ducharme.

Although Saskatchewan is a hot spot, she has been impressed by the reception the group has received. She said there are so many women in the province who are passionate about this issue. She encourages everyone to get involved in any way they can, particularly men.

"The more of our brothers who get involved the better," said Ducharme. "It's somebody's daughter, somebody's mother who's missing too, so I strongly encourage men to get on board."

Holly McKenzie, 25, is a women's studies and health studies student at the University of Regina who attended Friday's workshop.

"I'm very concerned with the issue of missing aboriginal women in our communities and how some women become targeted for violence," explained McKenzie.

She said through her studies and volunteer work she became aware of the issue, but it was after attending the Missing and Taken Symposium in October that she became passionate about the issue. McKenzie is part of the Feminist Action Community Takeback group that plans to host a conference next summer on missing women in Canada and Mexico to let the public know that this is not acceptable.

"We as a community need to take responsibility for other community members," said McKenzie. "In front of the Creator we are all equal and we need to make sure that we are all safe. Because if she's not safe then I'm not safe."

Judy Hughes, president of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation, believes that some progress has been made in regards to raising awareness about missing and murdered women in the province. She said in particular the Missing Persons Task Force has helped to raise awareness about the issue.

"(The task force) is starting to build better relationships with the RCMP, but there's still a long way to go," said Hughes.

Last year, SIS organized its first national vigil to honour the memory of all missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada and had 11 communities participate. Hughes said the workshops also help to advertise the annual vigil that SIS started and this year's promises to be even bigger.

"The indigenous women of Colombia and Peru have agreed to hold vigils at the same time on Oct. 4, so now we have an international vigil. We're really looking forward to being able to bring as much communities in Canada on side," said Hughes.

People can access more information on the SIS initiative at

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

The Star Phoenix

Two added to KARE list, Man missing since June and woman, 23, come under task force's mandate

August 25, 2007


Two new names are on the list of people Project KARE is looking for.

The RCMP task force investigating the deaths and disappearances of people who lead high-risk lifestyles has added the name of Jessy Alain Lessard, a 29-year-old man missing since June 13, to its caseload. Project KARE is also looking for 23-year-old Coral Lafferty.

Officials with the task force couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, but a periodic missing-persons bulletin sent out last week notes that Lessard doesn't fit Project KARE's mandate. The task force is nevertheless helping Edmonton police with the case, the bulletin notes.

While Project KARE is usually associated with cases of missing women, it's not the first time it's investigating a case involving a man.

Police have pointed out the team focuses on people who lead high-risk lifestyles, which can include everyone from drug abusers to hitchhikers.

Edmonton police first put out a notice about Lessard's disappearance three weeks ago. At the time, an acquaintance said he worked in Rocky Mountain House but lived in Edmonton, where he practised martial arts at a club on St. Albert Trail. The case has baffled city police, who said earlier this month they don't suspect foul play.

Officials have long said they suspect more than one serial killer may be behind the missing-person cases that Project KARE investigates. While police couldn't explain yesterday why the task force is working on Lessard's case, a prominent expert on serial murderers said it's not impossible that a killer targeting women could also go after a man.

"In reality, serial killers often change their method of killing as well as their victim characteristics," said Jack Levin of the Brudnick Center on Conflict and Violence at Boston's Northeastern University.

"That's why it's so difficult to predict what these killers will do next."

In one instance, a serial killer in the U.S. Midwest started out by attacking black men, said Levin, who added the murderer "must have been reading the newspapers because his next victim was a white male."

Levin said serial killers usually target vulnerable people, which wouldn't fit the description of Lessard, who had been training for months in martial arts, said a source familiar with the Project KARE bulletins.

Lessard is described as six feet tall and weighing 170 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.

Lafferty, meanwhile, is said to be five-foot-five and 160 pounds with brownish red hair and brown eyes.

While there was no information on how Lafferty went missing, the source acquainted with Project KARE cases said the news of more missing people is disturbing.

"It makes you sick to your stomach," said the source. "You just pray that she might be found."
Edmonton Sun
Where have my sisters gone?

Wednesday, August 22

Nisga`s paddlers undertake journey in support of victims

By Brooke Ward
The Northern View

Aug 22 2007

It was a healing journey, a trip of self-discovery for two dozen youth and support workers who participated in a six-day paddling adventure in support of the families affected by the tragic events and mystery-shrouded circumstances along the Highway of Tears.

Traveling from Old Aiyansh on the upper Nass River, the participants spent nearly a week paddling an average of seven and a half hours each day through the connecting waters that link many coastal villages before concluding their journey in Prince Rupert on Sunday, where a large group of proud family members and supporters greeted them.

Friendly greetings also awaited the two ocean canoes at each of the villages they stopped in along the way- Giwinksihlkw, Laxgaltsap (Greenville), Gingolx (Kincolith), Lax’kwalaams (Port Simpson), Kitkatla and Metlakatla. Each community offered their support in the form of donations totalling $1,600 that they then hand-delivered to Lisa Krebs, coordinator of the Highway of Tears Initiative. The youth were also supported by Nisga’a Valley Health and the RCMP.

Youth participant James Smythe best summarized the experience, addressing the crowd that had gathered in Prince Rupert.

“The way I see it, we are making waves. Hopefully they are big enough for people to feel. We are making waves on both sides of the boat. On the one side, we’re sending a message that the Highway of Tears will not be forgotten and that youth will continue to spread the message of the dangers of hitchhiking.”

“On the other side, we are learning that we can’t let go of our traditions,” he said
Nelson Leeson, President of the Nisga’a Nation emphasized the importance of continuing tradition, calling the mere experience of watching the canoes come into his community of Greenville “emotional.”

“No one has seen a canoe come in like that for generations. This is a significant journey our young people have undertaken. Many of the kids involved have had some kind of trouble or pain in their lives. They will never be the same after this. This is something that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Indeed, the experience was thrilling, as the drums and singing could be heard well before the canoes were in clear sight of the dock. Upon their arrival, the canoes were welcomed to Tsimshian territory and organizers presented a signed Nisga’a Nation flag and wreath of cedar branches to Leeson.

“This signifies our journey. We have made a new family. The things we have built within our hearts is very strong. Some of us have discovered things we never knew we had inside,” said one paddler.

Highway of Tears

Tuesday, August 21

MISSING! The Disappeared, Lost or Abducted in Canada

The Disappeared, Lost or Abducted in Canada

by Lisa Wojna

This book is a fascinating if disturbing collection of true stories about Canadians who disappeared without a trace. Even if they or their remains were found eventually, mysteries remain to this day as to what really happened.
Price: $18.95 $18.95
Format: Paperback
Page Count:264
Dimensions:5.25" x 8.25"

Monday, August 20

LIVES OF PAIN - living

Stress plagues sex-trade workers

Aug 20, 2007

Sheila Dabu
Living Reporter

Exaggerated strokes of bubble-gum-pink blush, light blue eyeshadow and red lipstick try to mask her preteen years.

Wipe them away and she would look like a friend's baby sister. Or even your own.

Underneath this child's picture is the caption: "Prostitutes aren't born."

At the StreetLight office, program manager Natasha Falle looks at the poster and says it's a story she knows all too well.

Falle, who was introduced to the sex industry at 14, survived sexual abuse by a teenage babysitter when she was only 6 years old.

StreetLight is a Toronto-based non-profit organization that provides support services for sex workers, including helping them find an alternative. The program is affiliated with the Toronto police.

Falle and Jessica Lourenco, a fellow survivor of post-traumatic stress disorder, are eager to speak out about the trauma they experienced in their former profession.

They say they are among countless numbers of women who acquire the disorder while working as prostitutes. Sex workers who have been assaulted are afraid to report the attacks, let alone disclose the trauma they cause, and most with post-traumatic stress disorder go undiagnosed and untreated, advocates such as Falle say.

There are no accurate national statistics on the number of sex workers in Canada, let alone those affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, say activists such as Valerie Scott of Sex Professionals of Canada. And the Canadian Institutes for Health Research isn't aware of any national studies on the issue.

A 2003 study by California researcher Melissa Farley says about 68 per cent of sex workers surveyed in nine countries, including some from British Columbia, reported post-traumatic stress disorder on the same level as those who served in military combat. And her 2005 study says 100 sex workers interviewed in Vancouver had "an extremely high prevalence of lifetime violence and post-traumatic stress disorder."

Yet even with this perceived "silent epidemic" that could have potentially fatal consequences (if left untreated, the disorder can lead to suicide or drug and alcohol addictions) there are two major issues concerning the disorder and sex workers: First, advocates say traditional treatment methods won't work for women who lack the resources and social support to get better. Second, there's a debate about whether it's sex work itself or Canada's prostitution laws that put women in danger.

Falle and Lourenco say finding alternatives to the sex industry helped them heal. After a few years in the business (Lourenco started at 12), both quit after going back to school.

Falle, 34, graduated from a George Brown College program in counselling assaulted women and children and received a University of Toronto certificate for trauma studies in 2005. Lourenco, 20, graduated from an addiction and community worker program at CDI College three months ago.

But their stories of survival aren't the norm for most sex workers. Both say many don't even know about post-traumatic stress disorder.

The stigma of reporting sexual assault also lingers. At the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre at Women's College Hospital, about 350 to 400 female victims are seen each year, according to nurse Deirdre Bainbridge. Some of them work in the sex trade but it's unclear how many because there's no statistics on the patients' professions. Many of these women are not included in crime statistics because about "fifty per cent of our patients don't report assaults to police," Bainbridge estimates.

While activists say sex workers don't trust the police to help them, Det. Wendy Leaver of the Toronto police sex crimes unit says her officers are working with outreach agencies to challenge the stereotype that police don't care. Leaver says post-traumatic stress disorder is a "hidden trauma in sex workers."

Even when the disorder has a clinical diagnosis, there's still the hurdle of finding adequate mental health care. A 2006 Senate committee report said "aside from being confusing and frustrating to access, many times services are simply not existent for those who have a mental illness."
As well, Scott says, some therapists treating sex workers who have been assaulted blame the victim for her misfortune, so her group refers women to two psychologists in Toronto who have positive attitudes to sex workers but whose services aren't covered by OHIP.

Another major issue stems from recent constitutional challenges launched against laws banning bawdy houses, living on the avails and communicating for the purpose of prostitution. Activists in Toronto are debating whether it's a lack of legal protection or the nature of sex work itself that endangers the lives of thousands of sex workers – witness the horrifying details of the Robert Pickton trial – and exposes them to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scott, whose group is launching one of the lawsuits, says, "there's nothing inherently dangerous about prostitution. What makes it dangerous is the way the laws are set up in this country."
Though prostitution isn't illegal, activities related to it, such as hiring a bodyguard, are against the law, she notes.

But according to a 2006 study by Australian researchers, street-based sex workers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder experienced multiple traumas from childhood abuse and work-related violence.

Back at StreetLight, Falle says sex work is harmful and perpetuates trauma but adds that her views don't reflect the support centre's neutral stance on the issue.

Yet her advice for those struggling with stress disorder remains the same: "It's important to know you're not the only one."
© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2007
Toronto Star

Saturday, August 18

A voice for the victims

Lindsay Wolf the link between Project Kare and murdered women's families

Trish Audette
The Edmonton Journal
Saturday, August 18, 2007

CREDIT: Shaughn Butts, the Journal
Lindsay Wolf, Project Kare's victims' services co-ordinator

EDMONTON - There are few walls in Project Kare's offices not covered with flow charts or posters or newspaper clippings.

At least one woman's face stares from every one of those documents.

Sometimes her cheeks are bruised. Always, her eyes are tough.

The detectives working to solve more than 70 disappearances or murders of people who led high-risk lifestyles do not need more reminders of the victims. They know the stories of the women who once walked Edmonton's streets, often selling their bodies to finance drug habits.

They know how many children were orphaned after those women turned up dead in fields and along rural roads. But it's Lindsay Wolf's job to make sure their families know the detectives remember.

"One of your biggest fears is everyone's going to forget, no one's going to remember," Wolf says.
She is Project Kare's first-ever victims' services co-ordinator.

At least once each month, she phones the families and updates them on ongoing investigations.
She doesn't know everything about each case, she says, but she knows enough about what the families need to know. And she can forward their questions or new tips to detectives.

Since February, it has been Wolf's job to help families find what they need -- information about government compensation programs, support group meetings or an ever-elusive sense of closure.

"They've experienced a homicide or a murder of someone close to them. So there's the emotional trauma of that," Wolf says.

"Closure's a big thing. You may never have closure."

A graduate of the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and sociology, Wolf used to volunteer with the Edmonton police service's Zebra Child Protection Centre.

Now, she has taken over from the police liaison officers who used to handle families' questions and concerns. Family members can still call the police officers they have become comfortable with over the years, but Wolf is available 24 hours a day for them, always ready to talk.

"It's really great to have (Wolf) in place. The detectives did excellent family support work, (but) I also know we need to free up the detectives and the constables to do the investigative work," says Kate Quinn, the executive director of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton.

Earlier this year, Quinn says, she and Wolf worked to help one family figure out how to pay for a funeral. "I would suggest that is not the work of a detective."

Wolf's position is funded by Alberta's solicitor general's department until February. RCMP spokesman Cpl. Wayne Oakes says grant applications are already being prepared to maintain funding and renew Wolf's contract.

"When a family is involved with the police, you need to have a contact person," says Kathy King, whose daughter Cara was killed in 1997.

"I know back when my daughter's investigation was more immediate, there was a constable who was in touch with me probably every month for the first six months or so. You need that."

Since 1988, the remains of 15 women involved in Edmonton's sex trade have been found outside the city. Project Kare, an RCMP-led task force, is responsible for investigating many of these cases, some of which may be linked by one or more common killers.

Last year, Thomas George Svekla was arrested in connection to the death of Theresa Merrie Innes, a mother of two involved in prostitution in High Level. In January, RCMP announced further charges against Svekla in connection to the 2004 death of Rachel Liz Quinney.

He will appear in court next year.

Wolf plans to go to court with the victims' families, if they wish to attend the hearings.
"We're hoping to have space where the families can go so they're not bombarded," she says.

Quinn says Wolf has jumped enthusiastically into the job, quickly making contacts with organizations that help the city's sex-trade workers. She is also known, already, for offering families the care and respect they need.

"Their grief is so public ... and it's usually horrific," Quinn says. "They walk this path of ongoing grief and public attention."

© The Edmonton Journal 2007
Project KARE

Friday, August 17

Lillian O'Dare Identified

Skeleton ID'ed
Almost 30 years after she mysteriously died and was stuffed into a crawl space, police are one step closer to solving Lillian O'Dare's disappearance

Lori Culbert
Vancouver Sun
Friday, August 17, 2007

Lillian Jean O'Dare is the oldest case on Vancouver's list of 65 missing women.

Police still don't know who caused her to disappear nearly three decades ago, but advanced DNA technology recently confirmed it was her skeletal remains found almost 20 years ago in a house on Salsbury Drive in East Vancouver.

The Missing Women Task Force is looking for new clues in the old cold case, and are hoping a woman known only by the name "Diana" - captured in a faded photograph with O'Dare - may come forward to speak with investigators.

"We are seeking the public's assistance in locating Diana, who may have been a roommate, an associate of Lillian's, around the time of her disappearance in 1978. We believe she could have information that could further the police investigation," RCMP Const. Annie Linteau said in an interview today.

O'Dare was 34 when she disappeared on Sept. 12 1978.

While doing some spring cleaning on April 22, 1989, a tenant in a house in the 900-block of Salsbury Drive came across a skull in a crawl space. Police would later find the rest of the skeletal remains.

Linteau said police knew the victim was a woman and expected foul play, but an "intense" investigation could not determine who she was.

Fast forward in time, and now officials not only have the science of DNA to help them but even greater advances that can get results from more degraded biological evidence.

This new technology, "miniSTR," allows for more refined DNA information to be extracted from very small samples and helped the B.C. Coroners Service finally put a name to the skeleton.

Little is known about O'Dare, except that she stood 5-6, had short, reddish-blond hair and was reported missing the same day she disappeared.

In 2002, nearly 25 years after she vanished, the Missing Women Task Force decided to add O'Dare's name to their list of women who had disappeared from the Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver police Sgt. Sheila Sullivan said the task force researched hundreds of B.C. missing person files and decided to put those with similar backgrounds - ties to the Downtown Eastside and involvement in the sex trade and/or drug use - on the official poster.

"When Lillian O'Dare's missing person's file was reviewed by the task force... there was enough info at the time to make investigators believe that she fit the profile," Sullivan said.

In 2002, the task force said it was unable to locate any relatives of O'Dare's.

Today, Sullivan said they'd found her family and informed them of the development in her case.

Linteau said O'Dare was not living in the Salsbury house at the time of her disappearance.

The Vancouver Sun reported in 1989 that the house on Salsbury had been occupied by a number of tenants, including members of a motorcycle gang.

The official police list of missing women at one time had 69 names on it, but four of those people were found alive so it now sits at 65.

Accused serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton is accused of killing 26 of those women.

He is on trial now for six of those murders, and is expected to face a second trial on 20 counts in the future. Sullivan said police continue to investigate what happened to the other 39 women.

"There are dozens of cases and many leads to follow up on each one of those," she said.

Linteau said advances in science could bring answers to the other families.

"The case of Lillian O'Dare was the oldest case on the missing poster and it certainly should give hope to the families, and to ourselves, that even after 29 years we can really still pursue actively an investigation."

© Vancouver Sun 2007

Wednesday, August 15

Public is critical of investigation..65 percent want public inquiry into police action

Andy Ivens
The Province
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The police investigation that led to charges against Robert "Willie" Pickton remains a sore point with British Columbians, according to a poll released yesterday.

Nearly seven out of 10 British Columbians polled earlier this month -- 69 per cent -- say Vancouver police and the RCMP did not do enough to investigate the disappearance of women from Vancouver's skid row.

Sixty-five per cent want a public inquiry into the investigation.

As well, 59 per cent of those polled by Angus Reid Strategies said prostitution should be legal.
Pickton is on trial for the murders of six drug-addicted prostitutes from the Downtown Eastside.

The Port Coquitlam hog butcher also faces murder charges involving another 20 women.

Libby Davies, the member of Parliament for Vancouver East, favours decriminalization as a way to cut down on the murders and serious assaults of street prostitutes.

Davies said the law banning communication in public to engage in prostitution "is not only not working, but is actually creating a very dangerous situation."

"It's such a serious issue in my riding and we have women who are dying -- it's got to be addressed.

"The [Pickton] trial has really raised people's awareness about what goes on in the sex trade and how dangerous it is," she said.

"I was very surprised and hopeful to see that there was such strong support for decriminalization."

Simon Fraser University professor of criminology John Lowman has studied Canada's prostitution laws since 1977 and is a strong advocate for change.

"Everything would be better if we changed the way that we deal with this," said Lowman.
"None of this prohibitionist stuff makes any sense apart from appeasing the self-righteous morality of those involved in peddling it."

He said prostitution is thriving on the Internet, referring to Craigslist, where a check of the website revealed nearly 7,000 postings by female "escorts" advertising sex for money since July 1.
- - -

Angus Reid Strategies asked 1,030 British Columbians: Should there be a public inquiry into how the disappearance of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside was investigated?

- 65 per cent agree.
- 27 per cent disagree.
- 8 per cent are not sure.

The responses by age group:

- 58 per cent agree.
- 29 per cent disagree.
- 62 per cent agree.
- 29 per cent disagree.
55 and older:
- 74 per cent agree.
- 23 per cent disagree.


Angus Reid Strategies asked 1,030 British Columbians: Do you think prostitution should be legal in B.C.?

- 59 per cent said yes (66 per cent of males, 51 per cent of females).
- 29 per cent said no (22 per cent of males, 35 per cent of females).
- 13 per cent said not sure (11 per cent of males, 14 per cent of females).

© The Vancouver Province 2007

Sunday, August 12

RASHEED Z. BAAITH SAYS: A shade of difference

Broward Times
August 12, 2007

Like an increasing number of black women, Stepha Henry has been missing for way too long.And like a number of black women who are missing, Henry is not getting the attention from the media, local and national, that her case deserves.

During the Memorial Day weekend, an acquaintance picked up Henry and took her to Peppers Café in Sunrise. Video footage shows Henry alone at the nightclub. She has not been seen or heard from since.Miami-Dade police continue to investigate her disappearance. Homicide detectives have taken the lead in the case.

From all appearances, the reason for the lack of media attention devoted to Henry’s case is probably because she is not blond and not white.

When it comes to missing persons, the media has been consistent on two points. One, if the missing person is female, white and attractive by media standards, that case is going to get plenty of attention. There will be interviews with the victim’s family, friends, teachers, pastor, and family pet.

There will be pictures in newspapers both national and local. Film of the victim will be on as many newscasts as possible. And fliers will be everywhere.

Two, if the missing person is black, Hispanic, (male or female), the reverse is true. There will be an initial flurry of media attention but it will quickly die. If the family of the victim does not have resources and determination, the story of their loved one will quickly move from the front page to no page.

Right now, according to the FBI, there are 47,600 active adult cases of missing persons. Of those 29.1 percent are black and about 22,200 are women. You would never know that from reading the newspapers or watching the news.

We rarely hear about the cases of Tamika Huston or Stepha Henry on national news programs. They spend their time and resources telling us about runaway brides or celebrity drunk drivers.
Or sending reporters to Aruba to find the reasons for the disappearance of a young, white woman. Don’t misunderstand. The cases of missing white, blond, young women should not be minimalized. The heartache and grief their families feel is as real as the pain of any family of color.

But neither should the cases of missing women and men of color be ignored or minimalized.

No doubt one reason for the lack of coverage in these cases is because our women are expected to be victims of crime. The media expects our women to be mistreated, exploited and harmed.
That kind of thinking means that if anything happens to someone you expect to be a crime victim, it has no newsworthiness.

It’s as if the editors and producers in the media deny the innocence of our women. It seems their color denies them the possibility of blamelessness. The media cannot believe that black women or other women of color can be untouched in any manner whatsoever. What the media are doing is deciding who has worth and who does not. This means that we have to do more than be shocked or dismayed. First, we have to do all we can to protect our women.

Then, if and when they disappear, we have to do all we can to find them, whether the media gives them the attention they deserve or not.

Rasheed Z. Baaith is the senior pastor at the Imani Christian Family Community Church in Oakland Park.

Saturday, August 11

Who speaks for missing women?

The Toronto Star
Saturday Aug 11, 2007
Byline: Mary Lynn Young

Prosecutors in Canada's largest serial murder trial are winding down their case, eight months and 97 witnesses after it started. That's six years since Robert William Pickton, 57, was first charged, and 30 years since the first of 65 women went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The case, in which Pickton is being tried for an initial six of 26 murder charges, is taking longer to resolve than it took to investigate the Air India bombing and public inquiry. Pickton has pleaded not guilty, although he admits that the remains of six women were located on his Vancouver-area farm.

Major crimes and violence have always been a fact of life. But, some violent crimes garner more or less public and media attention because of how they tap into deep-seated divisions in a community. The fact that such crimes happen should no longer surprise. It is how we make sense of them and respond to the underlying social problems that matters.

For example, the media coverage of the infamous 1994 Just Desserts shooting of Georgina (Vivi) Leimonis, a white woman gunned down by a black man, drew attention to emerging racial tensions in Toronto that have continued - and many would argue have grown - to this day.
News coverage of the missing women's case tells a different story about social tensions in Vancouver.

Two decades went by before the murders of a large number of women, most of whom earned a living on the street via the sex trade, even made the media agenda. The near silence in mainstream media was eventually broken because of lobbying by a few committed family members and some intrepid journalists, as the numbers became too large to ignore.

The fact that there has been limited media attention to the almost 100 women who have gone missing from Edmonton to northern British Columbia and Vancouver over the past 30 years - many of them from small, poor First Nations communities - tells us something about deep-seated racial tensions in the West. These women were seen as disposable and have been without a voice in the media.

Now that the Pickton trial is underway, media worldwide are covering it. But, the public is increasingly less interested in the details of the case, according to a June poll by the Feminist Media Project at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism and the Mustel Group.

The poll found that almost one in two B.C. residents are not interested in the trial.

This fact conflicts with the media's perception that sensational crime stories, such as serial murder and sexual homicides drive audience interest. These types of crimes tend to gain large amounts of media coverage in North America, with crime and violent content often filling between 20 and 25 per cent of the news section in newspapers and on television.

It's not surprising that people aren't interested in reading daily - often graphic - summaries of crime scene details. These details tend to dehumanize victims and focus on the criminal act, not the underlying causes or ways to improve social conditions in the future.

Rather than reporting on the grisly details of crime, the media could choose to shed more light on the social and economic context of crime in our communities.

What matters about the media's coverage of the Pickton case is that people know and believe that these horrific, violent events happened - and continue to happen to vulnerable women in Canada. And, more importantly, why that is so.

So far, despite the millions of words devoted to the trial and charges against Pickton and the almost 30 years that it has taken to get some of the cases surrounding the missing women to trial, Vancouver is still without an official inquiry or task force and the media has shown little outrage about this.

If not the media, who has the power and reach to speak for the many women who disappeared and died?

Mary Lynn Young is an associate professor and acting director of University of British Columbia's School of Journalism.

© 2007 Torstar Corporation


UBC School of Journalism

Thursday, August 9

Native women and youth learn life skills and carving to remember the missing women

Healing to move on

Catherine Rolfsen
Vancouver Sun

Thursday, August 09, 2007

DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE - On a sunny summer morning in east Vancouver, a group of first nations women and youth gather eagerly at the entrance to a parking garage.

A lock is turned, a door opened, and they pile into the cool concrete space. Inside are three parked cars, three long cedar logs and piles of wood shavings.

The smell of cedar is thick.

It may not look like much, but the Spirits Rising Memorial Society's "carving shed" at Dundas and Wall streets is the location of great hope and tremendous sadness.

These 12 people are carving a totem pole to commemorate the women who have gone missing or been murdered on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

In the process, organizers believe they're sowing the seeds of a women-led sea change in the drug and abuse-ravaged neighbourhood.

The women who have died or disappeared in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood have been spotlighted since charges were laid against Robert Pickton for 26 alleged murders.

However, Spirits Rising's coordinator and counsellor Kim Haxton says the tragedy and its legacy are far from over.

"I think we live in a society where we don't really deal with tragedy or grief," she says, "and yet there are all these people with pain."

Haxton says she's had family and friends of the missing women come into her office, sit down on her couch, and weep.

"[They] said, 'Thank you for doing this. I needed something,' " she says.

The stories of the missing women are intrinsically tied up with the plight of urban aboriginals. Of the 65 women on the list of those vanished from Vancouver's streets, 23 are indigenous. The Canadian government has estimated that young aboriginal women are five times more likely than all other young women to die as the result of violence.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- these links, organizers of Spirits Rising are convinced that healing will come from within first nations culture.

Twelve aboriginal women and youth, most from the Downtown Eastside, have been selected to receive a living allowance and take 16 weeks of full-time life skills and carving courses.

The project will culminate with a potlatch and the raising of the totem pole early this fall in Wendy Poole Park, a tiny green space in the Downtown Eastside named after a pregnant aboriginal mother who was found strangled to death in the neighbourhood in 1989. The man charged with her murder was acquitted and the case remains unsolved.

Haxton plans the group's life skills classes, which range from non-violent conflict resolution to financial literacy and are designed to complement the more physical, public project of healing embodied in the pole.

"This whole project, Spirits Rising, is about healing and addressing the issues," she says. "It's about honouring, having closure so that people can go forward."

To commemorate and to transform is exactly why Georgina James joined the group.

As the slight, sad-eyed 41-year-old whittles a piece of cedar, she raises her voice above an incessant wood sander to explain how she got here.

James was one of many aboriginal children taken into foster care as part of the "'60s scoop."
When she was 15, she headed to the streets of Vancouver to look for her mother, a residential school survivor, and the rest of her family.

"I found them in the bar," she says, "and that became my life for a number of years."

It was not until her mother died seven years later of cirrhosis that James started the "never-ending process" of recovery.

Since getting sober, she's worked in outreach programs in Toronto and Vancouver, and joined the first annual Women's Memorial March for the missing and murdered women.

Sixteen years later, she still knows some of the women on that infamous list.

"I think this project is going to bring an awareness back that you can't forget about these women," she says, adding that women are still at risk in the neighbourhood.

Learning to carve is also about continuing her journey of recovery. "Working with this wood is like healing," she explains, "because the cedar is our medicine."

The mother of participant Marlene Thistle's stepson is halfway down the left-hand column of the missing list. Thistle says that family friend Michelle Gurney, last seen in 1998, was mentally disabled and easily persuaded by predators.

Thistle is taking part in the project to remind the public that the women on the poster are "someone's sister, mother, daughter."

Across the parking-garage-cum-carving-shed, master carver Jordan Seward mills about patiently among the students, showing them the finer points of carving.

The soft-spoken 34-year-old member of the Haida and Squamish nations was hired by the society, along with female carver Morgan Green, to bring their pole from idea to reality.

The carving shed is filled with noise and laughter, but it's treated as a sacred place. Anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs -- or even in a bad mood -- is told to steer clear of the pole. Students are required to be completely clean during the course.

The pole's bark has been stripped and it has been ceremonially cleansed in preparation for carving, explains Seward, a former east Vancouver resident who has since moved to North Vancouver's Capilano reserve.

The Spirits Rising board and Seward have decided to create a traditional Haida memorial pole.

Students have already started carving a mother bear holding two cubs at the base of the nine-metre pole -- to represent love and the pain of loss. Above, the moon will symbolize the grandmothers who watch over us.

The top crest, carved from a chunk of a second log, will be the thunderbird, Seward says, which signifies transformation and strength.

But there are a number of things about the pole that are not so traditional.

Seward plans to incorporate two-dimensional designs in the rings, including Celtic knots to honour the missing women of European origin, a Salish design since the pole will stand on their traditional territory and a Dene rose to honour Wendy Poole, who was from the Dene Nation.

It's also not traditional for women to carve a totem pole, for a pole to commemorate more than one person, or for so many people to be involved in its creation. The group plans to invite families of the missing women to make a cut on the pole.

"It's going to mean a lot more when more hands touch it," Seward says.

Many of those hands are busily working on other projects in the carving shed. Seward has them making bowls, spoons and panels that will be given away as gifts at the potlatch.

Twenty-five-year-old Andrew Dexel is one of the few male students of Spirits Rising. He's tuned into headphones and concentrating deeply on a large panel of a bear, which he's carved in a style he calls "West Coast graffiti mix-up."

Dexel says he's always wanted to learn to carve.

Next to him, 31-year-old Nadine Dorvault says she comes from a family of carvers in the Gitxsan Nation in northeastern B.C.

"Doing this work, doing these sculptures, it seems to be coming to me really quickly," she says.

She's been on her own since she was 13, but as she got older, she became more interested in connecting with her culture. Dorvault hopes after this program she will land an apprenticeship or get into a carving school in Hazelton, where much of her family lives.

Watching the young men and women grow over the weeks since the program began has been rewarding for Michele Morning Star Doherty, president of Spirits Rising.

"It's far more than a pole," she says. "Simultaneously while memorializing the women there's also the aspect of creating options and opportunities through education and self-awareness, so that there is the option that one doesn't have to go down that path."

Brimming with passion and energy, Doherty says the long-term goal of Spirits Rising is to create "social capital" to transform the Downtown Eastside.

Of Cree and Ojibwa ancestry, Doherty recently returned to her birthplace of Vancouver after years of travelling and living in the U.S. and Australia.

"I cannot tell you how totally shocked and upset I was with the Downtown Eastside," Doherty says.

"It's like Harlem 30 years ago. I was in New York the other day, and I thought, 'You know what? You know how Harlem got totally cleaned up to where it is today?'

"It was grassroots, it was through the women, it was about education, and this is where I'm coming from."

Social change in the Downtown Eastside is an ambitious goal for a series of classes, a totem pole and a $500,000 budget. The directors hope to expand the project -- which is funded by Heritage Canada, B.C. Health, the Margaret Mitchell Fund for Women, the B.C. Gaming Commission and other private sponsors -- to two programs of study a year.

Still, it's clear that Spirits Rising has a limited scope. In allowing only clean and sober students, it doesn't directly tackle the scourge of drugs in the neighbourhood. The healing it offers is for those who've already started their journeys.

But in the carving shed, the problems facing Vancouver's urban aboriginals do not seem too large to be tackled one student at a time.

Amber Catzel, a Simon Fraser University student and east-side resident, embodies the hope and pride present especially in younger participants.

She says she loves being part of something so profound and gaining "a better sense of self."

Catzel pauses from the intricate painting she's working on to remark, "I can't believe I'm doing it. It's peaceful, it's spiritual, I feel really good."
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© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Wednesday, August 8

Where is Shannon Lynn Fischer

Hello All Highway of Tears supporters. A good friend has asked for this missing person to be distributed far and wide. So please forward this email too as many of your friends as you can.

Shannon was last seen in Prairie du Chien Wisconsin USA
Shannon was last seen in Prairie du Chien Wisconsin. on the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 18th 2006 she is described as a 23 years old, white female, 5 foot 3 inches tall, 135 lbs, brown eyes and brown hair.

According to her parents, she has always kept in contact with her family and friends! Shannon is too well known by people in the area and family to just disappear, someone must know what happened to her!
Her parents and authorities want to remind everyone that even the smallest bit of information can help them in this case, so if you know anything, please come forward.

If you have any information, please call Chad Abram with the Prairie du Chien Police Dept. at 608-326-2421. or Crimestoppers at 1-866-799-7297. You may remain anonymous if you wish.Shannon if you are reading this you’re Mother and children miss you to your family and children miss you!!!

Missing Person Poster Case Number 3493-2006

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Memorial for women

By Sarah Payne The Tri-City News
Aug 08 2007

The heavy equipment is gone. So are the tents, grids, sorters and dozens of police officers, anthropologists and forensic experts sifting through the dirt at the Pickton pig farm in Port Coquitlam.

The buildings have been bulldozed and all that remains is a swath of bare land dotted with mounds of dirt. The landscape has changed dramatically from five years ago, when the property was dotted with a home and various farm buildings, and it will continue to change, says Chilliwack resident Ernie Crey. Investigators found DNA of his sister, Dawn Crey, on the property but Pickton has not been charged in her death.

Crey wants to have a small memorial placed near the property, maybe a cairn, to commemorate the life of Dawn Crey and the 26 women Pickton is charged with killing; his trial for six of those charges is entering its eighth month in New Westminster Supreme Court.

Crey realizes that such a memorial may be contentious, given the ongoing trial, but feels it’s important to offer families a place to go.

“I would like to see something now, but I’m not opposed to the idea that more time be taken,” he said. “Every few months that go by the place changes and at some point down the road no one will know where the site is.

“Local people will know... but the overwhelming majority [of the missing women’s families] I’m guessing haven’t even been there — they may not have had the means to go there, they may not have wanted to go there — but at some point they may want to go back to the site, and reflect on the lives of loved ones they’ve lost.”

Crey isn’t sure where the cairn could go. The city may have a right-of-way on Dominion Road, or it may belong to the commercial property across the street; putting it on the Pickton property itself isn’t a likely option.

Any inscriptions on the cairn could be suitably vague to avoid any legal issues or controversy, he added.

There is a similar monument in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside; Crey said it’s in the name of a woman who went missing from the area in the 1970s but still serves as a place to honour all women who’ve vanished from the city’s troubled streets.

“That monument hasn’t caused any controversy... it’s discreet, and for people to whom the monument really means something they can go there to remember, to honour their memory,” Crey said. He hasn’t discussed the idea for a PoCo memorial with the other women’s families, saying it’s just something he would personally like to see.

Tony Chong, PoCo’s city manager, said it was difficult for him to comment on the idea since nothing has actually been proposed to the city. The potential monument’s size would need to be considered in relation to things like utility alignments and traffic safety concerns, he said.

The Tri-City News

'Culture' depends on who's defining it

Anglo culture is dominant and taken for granted; minority cultures are automatically 'different'

Yasmin Jiwani
Special to the Sun

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Recent media attention focusing on the murders of women from the South Asian-Canadian community in the Lower Mainland has invoked a now-familiar refrain -- "it's the culture."

These culturalist interpretations of the murders, while popular and easily acceptable, are, I contend, both simplistic and dangerous.

For one, the interpretation of culture favoured by proponents of this view tends to dilute the complexity of the issues and presents a static, monolithic view of culture. Cultures are dynamic, as any self-respecting anthropologist will tell you.

Within the South Asian-Canadian community, there are a variety of cultural traditions, religions, languages, and faiths. Those within them also live lives that are markedly different based on their economic background, their interpretations of culture and their histories of migration and settlement.

If we embrace the culturalist argument, we are adhering to a view that cultural groups are static relics isolated from the mainstream. More than this, we are positing that individuals within a particular cultural formation represent the entirety of that culture.

If this were indeed true, we would have to agree that someone like Willy Pickton, an alleged mass murderer, is representative of the dominant Anglo culture. Further, whatever crimes Pickton has been charged with, it follows that such crimes are endemic to and reflective of his whole culture. There are some who would agree with this viewpoint.

That aside, the Anglo culture is a dominant culture -- its norms are often taken for granted and normalized, whereas minority cultures such as South Asian come under heavy scrutiny and their practices are often highlighted as markers of cultural difference, separating these groups from the mainstream.

For instance, each time a woman from an Anglo background is murdered, do we have reporters dwelling on her cultural background? We don't, for example, get lengthy descriptions regaling the cultural facets of the burial, the wedding, or how they met despite or in spite of the fact that all of these practices and actions are undoubtedly culturally grounded.

These descriptions, if they are mentioned, are not culturalized but rather normalized as the dominant ways of doing things. Even which culture is categorized as a "culture" depends on who is doing the defining, the classifying and for what purpose.

To wit, recall the hullabaloo that erupted when journalist Jan Wong wrote the story about the Dawson College murders and sought to explain why Kimveer Gill was so alienated from Quebec's dominant culture and its values.

Wong attributed the actions of Gill and others like him to the culture of exclusion resulting from the imposition of Quebec's language laws (Bill 101). Her argument resulted in a huge outcry not only from the Quebec press and media in general, but also from members of Quebec's and Canada's political elite. Stephen Harper, Jean Charest and other politicians waded into the controversy.

The lesson in this is that if the cultural group you are critiquing is powerful, chances are your critique will be silenced. If however, the cultural group you are slamming or stereotyping is not so powerful, then there is little likelihood of the critique being challenged with the same force and with the same alliances from powerful political elites.

South Asian-Canadian groups have been active in advocating against gendered violence in their communities. Yet, the efforts of these organizations and other service providers who continue to work with minority communities are rarely lauded and supported -- or even known about outside the South Asian community.

Rather, their work tends often to be considered only in light of these aberrant high-profile cases and as one more sign indicating how "violent" these cultures are.

Were the same logic to be applied to the dominant society, the sure presence and strong history of anti-violence activism in British Columbia would necessarily have to be construed as a sign of the widespread prevalence of violence, and thus the violent nature of the dominant culture.

It is easy to point the finger at a highly visible cultural group and claim theirs to be a culture of violence. I would caution that such a perspective fails to account for the above-mentioned factors and proves only how a cultural argument serves to deflect attention away from the larger culture of violence in which we all live. Amplifying a cultural perspective only retrenches this discourse of denial.

Yasmin Jiwani is an associate professor in the department of communication studies at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the author of Discourses of Denial, Mediations of Race, Gender and Violence (UBC Press, 2006).

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Friday, August 3

Missing teen would be 28 today

By Jules S. Xavier
Record Staff
Aug 03 2007
It was the summer of 1993 when a teenager walked away from her foster home on Royston Road and has not been seen since.

Before 14-year-old Lindsey Jill Nicholls went missing on Aug. 2, the Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup facing Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings. The Toronto Blue Jays were playing excellent baseball at the Skydome en route to winning the World Series versus the Philadelphia Phillies.

The popular movies that year which the five-foot-three, 112-pound teen might have seen were Schindler’s List, The Piano, Philadephia and Six Degrees of Separation.

“The RCMP investigation regarding the disappearance of Lindsey Nicholls is ongoing,” reports Comox Valley RCMP Cpl. Paul West, who is with the General Investigation Section (GIS).

While the trail might have grown cold, West said the Mountie’s file involving her disappearance remains active for the local GIS.

“In the 14 years that Lindsey has been missing, police have pursued nearly 300 tips in an effort to determine what happened to Lindsey after she left her home on Royston Road,” said West.

“Despite the efforts of police and investigators from the Missing Children’s Society of Canada, what happened to Lindsey remains a mystery.”

Nicholls was just six weeks shy of her 15th birthday when she went missing. She would celebrate her 29th on Sept. 12.

Her mother, Judy Peterson, continues to advocate for the creation of a Missing Person’s index in conjunction with the national DNA databank in an effort to have a DNA registry for missing persons across Canada.

Peterson’s efforts have served to bring a bill before Parliament regarding this registry which has been nicknamed “Lindsey’s Law.” It was introduced in a private member’s bill by Canadian Alliance MP Gary Lunn in the fall of 2003 to establish the special databank.

At that time, B.C. Attorney General Rich Coleman said the databank was long overdue and might have been especially useful in the Vancouver investigation of pig farmer Robert Pickton, who is currently facing 15 murder charges. The Pickton investigation has involved more than 90,000 DNA tests.

West is asking for help from the public related to the disappearance of Nicholls. If you have information, call the Comox Valley RCMP detachment at 338-1321 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Prostitution laws face challenge

"The prostitution laws . . . subject sex workers to increased risk of physical and sexual violence, psychological injury, kidnapping and death," says a statement of claim to be filed in B.C. Supreme Court.Photograph by : Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

They are unconstitutional, Vancouver lawyers claim

Jonathan Fowlie, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, August 03, 2007

Two Vancouver lawyers will launch a constitutional challenge today of Canada's prostitution laws, arguing they force sex workers into unsafe conditions and infringe a sex worker's right to freedom of expression.

"The prostitution laws . . . subject sex workers to increased risk of physical and sexual violence, psychological injury, kidnapping and death," says a statement of claim to be filed in B.C. Supreme Court."

The prostitution laws deprive sex workers of the ability to lawfully conduct their work safely because they are prevented from taking steps to establish health and safety conditions in their work," it adds.

On Thursday, lawyers Katrina Pacey of Pivot Legal LLP and Joseph Arvay planned to file the statement of claim on behalf of the Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, a group of mostly aboriginal women, some of whom have experienced physical or sexual violence because of their work in the sex trade.

The statement of claim says the constitutional rights of the group's members are being violated by the prostitution laws.

"The basis of this whole case is that we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that that Charter protects all of us equally," Pacey said in an interview this week. "Regardless of the type of work we are in, or how we live our lives, we should all have equal access to those fundamental protections."

Canadian law does not explicitly prohibit the exchange of sex for money. Instead, there are sections in the Criminal Code that prohibit activities surrounding prostitution, such as: keeping a "bawdy-house;" procuring another person to have illicit sex; and communicating in a public place for the purposes of engaging in prostitution.In today's challenge, Pacey said she is relying on sections of the Charter - including those dealing with equality, freedom of expression and the right to life, liberty and security of the person - to challenge the communication law, the brothel laws and significant portions of the procurement law.

A similar challenge was launched in Ontario earlier this year, and Pacey said though the two involve slightly different arguments it is possible they could be combined if they eventually reach the Supreme Court of Canada.

In an interview Thursday, John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University who has been researching violence in prostitution since the 1970s, said he thinks Canada's prostitution laws have forced sex workers into extremely dangerous working situations, and applauded any challenge brought to the courts.

"We treat street prostitutes as disposable women," he said, explaining that sex workers move to dangerous areas of the city, and generally work outside and alone, to avoid arrest.

"Approaching 300 women [across Canada] have died, murdered, since 1985 when the communicating law was enacted," he said. "I say there is a direct correlation between our prohibitionist approach to street prostitution and the slaughter that we've seen."

Vancouver East MP Libby Davies said she, too, feels the prostitution laws need to be contested.
"The status quo is completely unacceptable, in fact it is harmful," said the NDP MP, who was part of a parliamentary committee which, despite her protests, concluded its investigation of prostitution laws in 2006 without recommending decriminalization.

While today's challenge represents a significant legal move, it is not the first time the prostitution laws have been challenged.

In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the communication law violates the constitutional right to freedom of expression, but refused to strike it down because it found such a violation to be justified.

Despite that, Pacey said she feels the time has come for the court system take another look.
"The evidence has significantly changed," she said.

"Since 1990, we've seen this explosion of missing women," she added. "We have so much more information and understanding about the violence sex workers face and the conditions of their work."

© Vancouver Sun

John Lowman's Prostitution Research Page
Pivot Legal Society
Libby Davies

Wednesday, August 1

Drugs, sex prevail in slum where Vancouver, B.C., farmer allegedly trolled for victims

By Jonathan Martin
Seattle Times staff reporter

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The man who may be the Northwest's most prolific murderer sits each day in a booth of bulletproof glass, staring blankly as a grim cast of ex-friends detail the way he allegedly butchered women.

The trial of Robert "Willie" Pickton, British Columbia's notorious pig farmer, is filled with testimony and evidence so gruesome that news accounts carry a warning label for graphic content.

Five years after his arrest, the trial for six of the 26 murders he's charged with was anticipated to be a grisly sensation. More than 350 journalists from around the world got credentials.

But as the prosecution winds down — six months and 97 witnesses later — it is clear that Vancouver is ready to move on. The courtroom is rarely full. Public-opinion polls show strong interest in the trial in the single digits and dropping. Few news stories now make the front page of Canadian newspapers.
An estimated $100 million (Canadian) has been spent on the Pickton case, the largest investigation in Canadian history. Police dug for bones at Pickton's squalid suburban property for 18 months after his arrest in early 2002.

They unearthed remains or DNA traces of dozens of women, all drug-addicted prostitutes, most picked up from Vancouver's Skid Row. The scope of the evidence is so huge that the case was split into two trials; Pickton is to face 20 more murder charges when the first trial wraps up later this year. And police are still investigating the disappearance of dozens of other women.

"It hangs like a dark cloud over the city," said Dr. Evan Wood, a researcher who studies the neighborhood where Pickton is said to have regularly picked up prostitutes. "It's a source of shame and concern among Vancouverites."

The disappearance of so many women in such a small strip briefly shined a spotlight on woes of the neighborhood, called the Downtown Eastside.

But it remains the same wasteland today as it was when Pickton was allegedly trolling there, where underage prostitutes walk the "Kiddie Stroll" and where addicts convulse through drug overdoses on the sidewalk. A United Nations official recently called it one of the world's worst slums in an affluent city.

Fearing that the neighborhood's ills could stain the image of the 2010 Winter Olympics, city and regional leaders have pledged huge increases in public housing to reduce homelessness.
But victims' families see the same civic neglect that allowed loved ones to disappear, one after another, for decades.

"I see my sister all the time down there. I see the same problems. I see the cops cruise by, and I see girls getting into a stranger's car, and I see the cops not doing anything," said Jason Fleury, brother of Mona Wilson, whose murder Pickton is on trial for now. "The only thing that's changed here are the buildings."

Bigger than Green River

In February 2002, days after his arrest, Pickton shared a chuckle with a cellmate, an undercover police officer planted by investigators. Pickton said his crimes were "bigger than the one in the States," referring to Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, convicted of 48 murders.
Pickton told the cellmate he had killed 49 women.

"I was gonna do one more, make it an even 50," Pickton said during the taped conversation, which prosecutors played for the jury. "I make my own grave by being sloppy."

He is widely described as mentally slow and foul-smelling, with stringy hair and a receding chin. But he was also a sugar daddy for drug-addicted prostitutes, his pockets stuffed with the profits of his family's land sales to housing developers in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam.

It was on one of the family's remaining parcels — 17 acres that included Pickton's pig slaughterhouse — that police found the remains of women. Three severed heads, hands and feet in buckets. Jawbones buried among pig manure. Packages of meat tainted by human DNA.

Last month, a former friend testified that Pickton had once described how he handcuffed and strangled prostitutes, then butchered the bodies and fed them to his pigs. What was left after the pigs ate went to a rendering plant.

"You wouldn't believe how much blood comes out of them," Pickton said, according to the testimony.

If the allegations are true, the biggest question of the trial is how Pickton got away with it for so long.

The first murder he is charged with occurred in 1995. For seven years before Pickton's 2002 arrest, his brother, Dave, lived on the property. A cast of underworld characters, including women who worked as madams for Pickton, procuring prostitutes on the Downtown Eastside, also were frequent guests.

Stevie Cameron, an investigative journalist and author of the book "The Pickton File," said Pickton's lawyers will likely try to pin blame on his brother or the unsavory friends.

"Pickton was very social. There were tons of people coming and going" from the property, Cameron said. "What I'm waiting for is an effort by the defense to show the other guy did it, but they haven't shown who the other guy is."

"Lack of accountability"

The Pickton property today is dotted with dirt hills the size of mega-mansions, created when archaeologists hired by police sifted the land looking for bones.

If only police had been so diligent in the years before Pickton was caught, said Ernie Crey.
Since 1978, 65 women have been reported missing from the Downtown Eastside, including Dawn Crey, whose DNA was found at the Pickton property in 2004. Ernie Crey, like other victims' family members and civic leaders, criticizes the police's flat-footed response to the disappearances.

"If there'd been a real investigation under way, there might have been many lives saved, including my sister's," said Crey, looking out over the dirt piles.

The Vancouver Police Department did an internal investigation on the case but will not release it until both trials are completed to avoid the perception of jury tainting. That means it could be 2008 or later before Vancouver knows if police messed up the biggest serial-murder case in Canadian history, said Mary Lynn Young, a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia.

"As an American, you'd be horrified about the lack of accountability in the police," she said. "We don't know how 65 women could go missing over 20 years in a city like Vancouver.
To even get to whether the police are at fault, we need to understand how it could happen."

Larry Campbell, a former Mountie and mayor of Vancouver from 2002 to 2005, said he believes police worked doggedly to find the killer but didn't have much to work with.

"You've got no crime scene, no body, and how many suspects out there?" said Campbell, now a member of the Canadian Senate. "You're starting with nothing. And many times in those cases, people went missing and were [only] reported missing years later."

"Certain kind of denial"

Mona Wilson was wearing Total Spice running shoes and a crucifix around her neck when she was seen hopping into Pickton's vehicle in November 2001, at the Skid-Row intersection of Hastings and Princess. She was reported missing a week later. She was 26.

She was an aboriginal Canadian raised in a series of foster homes, said Fleury, her brother. She lived in the suburbs and tried drug treatment many times, he said, but kept returning to the Downtown Eastside to feed a drug habit. Her drug of choice was codeine; she got 270 prescriptions in the last year of her life alone.

If Wilson's murder, and all the others, was a wake-up call to the neighborhood's squalor, the city's leaders were slow to respond.

The Downtown Eastside's vital statistics have remained unchanged for years: About half of the 15,000 residents are drug users; about 90 percent of them have hepatitis C; about 30 percent have HIV/AIDS, the same rate as Botswana.

Mayor Sam Sullivan, who is championing an effort to get more public housing, drug treatment and mental heath for a neighborhood lacking in all three, said remaking the Downtown Eastside will be the legacy of the 2010 Olympics.

"In the past, it's been very difficult for Vancouver to get the attention of federal and provincial governments, but I know we have this rare window of opportunity," he said.

But David Eby, a legal-services lawyer in the neighborhood, said the Olympics are already having a negative effect. Apartments are being converted into higher-priced homes so quickly that the homeless population has nearly doubled. Eby's firm, Pivot Legal Society, predicts that homeless people will number about 3,500 by 2010, about one-third more than Seattle's 2,000.

"There is a certain kind of denial for the city, the province and the federal government to do nothing in the face of Pickton and with the world coming here in 2010," said Eby during a tour of the neighborhood.

He gestured toward an alley next to a decrepit apartment, the Roosevelt Hotel, near the Downtown Eastside's core. It is there, according to testimony, that Pickton would pull up to meet prostitutes. They would drive away and never again be seen alive.

On one recent night, prostitutes clustered in the alley, shooting up, waiting for a john.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or
Writing The Pickton File by Stevie Cameron
Serial Killer Trial at Orato
Vancouver Missing Women
Hazel8500 - Where Have My Sisters Gone?
Flickr - Images of the missing