Monday, April 21

From drugs and sex to a life of hope

From drugs and sex to a life of hope

Lora Grindlay
The Province

'We need to realize that a human life is valuable, no matter what state it is in,' says Trisha Baptie, recipient of a 2008 Courage to Come Back Award in the social-adversity category.
CREDIT: Jason Payne, The Province
'We need to realize that a human life is valuable, no matter what state it is in,' says Trisha Baptie, recipient of a 2008 Courage to Come Back Award in the social-adversity category.

Every Monday until May 5, The Province will profile this year's recipients of the Courage to Come Back Awards. It's the 10th year the Coast Mental Health Foundation has honoured those who have inspired others by their ability to overcome great obstacles. The six recipients will be honoured at a gala dinner May 8 at the downtown Hyatt Hotel. Today's profile is of Trisha Baptie, recipient in the social-adversity category.

Trisha Baptie walked away from prostitution in 2001, for her kids.

"I never wanted my daughter to think that that was what she was created to do," said Baptie, 34.

"I started seeing that perhaps my world was not the norm, that perhaps my world wasn't the best for my kids, that I could hope for something bigger."

Before stepping off her Downtown Eastside corner for the last time, Baptie's hopes for her kids were firmly planted on the street.

"My highest aspirations for my son was to become one of the best-known pimps around, because he could command respect, he would have money, and he would be safe," recalled Baptie.

"I always thought that if I hoped bigger for them they would feel like they failed, because they would never achieve it. They have a single mom. All my kids are bi-racial. We live on the poverty line. I know I'm an alcoholic."

Seven years later, her daughter is graduating from high school, her 13-year-old son wants to be a pediatric nurse and another son has started kindergarten.

"They have something that I didn't have. I guess it's hope," she said. "They are totally different from where I was."

Baptie's recovery from drugs, prostitution and violence began with a smile. The Union Gospel Mission outreach worker who handed her a hot chocolate one night in 2000 would change her life.

"She's got this smile. I was just captivated by her," said Baptie.

That night they talked for two hours. "In her smile, in the way she talked to me, she somehow seemed to say, 'What you are is OK. You are important, you are human and I'm happy to be here talking to you.'"

The friendship grew and through it Baptie agreed to leave the street nine months later.

Baptie is open, honest and funny about her life. Her childhood in a "fairly stereotypical, middle-class, alcoholic, beat-the-kids-and-wife household" did nothing to prepare her for life or motherhood.

She was apprehended at 12 because of her violent outbursts. She was angry after seeing her mom repeatedly flee and then return to her abusive husband.

At 12, Baptie began going from foster care to group homes and had no role model for the behaviour she would need to live, work and survive on her own.

She entered rehab at 15, where she met the father of her first child. At 19, she moved in with a cocaine dealer and had a son.

She no longer drinks or does drugs and says her recovery was a process rather than an abrupt stop.

"It's a progression of longer and longer between the screwups. I'm years between screwups," she said.

Baptie's journey became newsworthy last year when she wrote about the Robert Pickton murder trial for as a citizen journalist.

She was writing about the horrific murders of some of the women she used to know, while other media wrote about her.

She is involved in her church, has worked through counselling with her kids, to deal with their troubled past, and has ended up with friends of a "calibre like nothing I had ever known."

"I didn't get this award on my own. I got this because of everyone who sacrificed and put themselves aside to lift me up," she said. "I just want to honour them."

Surprisingly, she has emerged into a new life that is "consumed with work as an abolitionist."

She is a vocal and devoted campaigner against prostitution.

She hopes to see Canada follow Sweden in criminalizing the buying of sex and decriminalizing the women's side of prostitution.

"Let's arrest the johns. Let's do education campaigns much like we do with domestic violence. It's not OK to buy a woman," she said.

"We need to realize that a human life is valuable, no matter what state it is in."

© The Vancouver Province 2008

More on Trisha at

Friday, April 11

Victims' families face further pain, with very light light at end of tunnel

Pickton appeal still a year away from hearing
Victims' families face further pain, with very little light at end of tunnel
Suzanne Fournier
The Province

The appeal hearing for Robert William Pickton will not start until March 30, 2009, prolonging the grief and lack of closure felt by the families of his victims and alleged victims.

"We want to lay Georgina to rest, but apparently we're not going to get any of her remains back anytime soon," said Cynthia Cardinal, whose sister, Georgina Papin, was murdered by Pickton.

Pickton was convicted of the second-degree murder of six women, including Papin, on Dec. 9, 2007. On Dec. 11, he was handed a sentence of life in jail with no hope of parole before 25 years.

"We understand that the justice system has to do everything properly and hear the appeal, but it's too lengthy for us. It's just too much to bear," said Cardinal.

Now she'll wait another year for Pickton's appeal, and possibly longer if a second trial is held.

B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm ruled yesterday that Pickton's appeal of six second-degree-murder convictions will be heard over eight days.

Six issues will be argued in the appeal, including the charge to the jury by B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams, in which he said jurors could convict even if they found he didn't act alone.

The appeal court panel, which could be made up of three or five judges, likely will reserve its ruling.

No decision would then be made on whether Pickton will face another trial on another 20 first-degree-murder charges until three weeks after the appeal-court ruling, said B.C. Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Stan Lowe.

Lowe noted that B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal has said that if Pickton's appeal on the first six second-degree-murder convictions fails, and if his life sentence is upheld, the Crown will not proceed to try him on the 20 further charges of first-degree murder.

The Crown had filed an appeal of the verdict and asked the Court of Appeal to set aside Pickton's acquittal on six counts of first-degree murder -- but only if Pickton is granted a new trial on the first six. If Pickton's appeal succeeds, the Crown will proceed with all 26 first-degree-murder charges, said Lowe.

Cardinal said that, until Georgina's body is laid to rest, "her spirit won't be at rest."

Cardinal said the family is still recovering from the first trial, in which graphic details were revealed about how Pickton killed and butchered the women.

"No one warned us what we were going to hear about our sister -- we're still trying to get counselling," she said.

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© The Vancouver Province 2008

Monday, April 7

Decision on Robert Pickton's second trial delayed for a year

Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun

METRO VANCOUVER - The victims' families who have been waiting years to find out if there is going to be a second trial for serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton are going to have to wait one more year.

B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm decided today to grant the Crown's application for an adjournment until after Pickton's appeal, which will start next March 30 and last about two weeks.

The judge decided the trial date for Pickton's second trial will be set on the third Thursday after the B.C. Court of Appeal delivers its decision.

The Crown initially charged Pickton with 27 counts of first-degree murder. One charge involved an unidentified woman called Jane Doe, which was stayed by the trial judge.

The defence was successful in having the remaining 26 murders charges divided into two trials, with the Crown proceeding first on six counts of murder, which Pickton was convicted of last Dec. 9.

He received the maximum sentence - life without parole for 25 years. The Crown announced earlier that it does not plan to proceed on the remaining 20 murder counts if Pickton loses his appeal.

The defence wanted a trial date set now so Pickton's new lawyer, Peter Wilson, could hire a defence team and begin preparing for a second trial. But Dohm found Pickton's constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable period of time does not come into play after he has been convicted of six murders and is serving six concurrent life sentences.

"His right has been held in abeyance," the judge said.

Dohm asked the families of those named as murder victims in the second trial for their "understanding and patience" until the matter can be resolved.

"It has not been overlooked that there are many people whose voices have not been heard," the judge explained. "The court fully appreciates the silent voices cry for a conclusion to this ordeal."

Outside court, Susie Kinshella of Chilliwack, the sister of Wendy Crawford, one of the remaining 20 victims Pickton still is accused of killing, said she is unhappy that a second trial might not go ahead.

"I'm not happy they may try to brush the other 20 women under the table," she said after attending the court proceedings in New Westminster. "That's like saying someone can go out and murder 30 women and they might pick the first six [for trial]."

She said Pickton is the highest-profile serial murder case in Canada "but the history books are going to say he went to jail for six counts of murder, not 26. I would like to have a not guilty or guilty verdict."

Kinshella said it seems the government would rather spend money on the 2010 Olympic Games rather than proceeding with a second trial.

© Vancouver Sun

Thursday, April 3

Native community mourns loss of bright spirit

Something evil takes away our young people, pastor says at service for bright, vivacious teen

Frances Bula
Vancouver Sun

Raven Pantherbone-Hunt, 15, was found dead in a Downtown Eastside hotel room. The young native girl, described as smart and talented, was mourned by more than 300 people at Wednesday's memorial service.
CREDIT: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun
Raven Pantherbone-Hunt, 15, was found dead in a Downtown Eastside hotel room. The young native girl, described as smart and talented, was mourned by more than 300 people at Wednesday's memorial service.
Raven's best friend Danielle Robertson (middle with flowers), and friends Maria Joseph (left) and Angela George were among the crowd.
CREDIT: Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun
Raven's best friend Danielle Robertson (middle with flowers), and friends Maria Joseph (left) and Angela George were among the crowd.

Raven Pantherbone-Hunt was found dead in a Downtown Eastside hotel on the weekend, four months before her 16th birthday.

She was alone in the room when hotel staff found her. Whoever had been partying with her was long gone.

But Raven wasn't alone Wednesday. Her friends, her teachers, her family, and the small village of Bella Bella natives that now lives scattered across Vancouver remembered the bright, vivacious, wildly social girl all day long with love. And bewilderment.

After all, everything about the community that surrounded her was meant to be a safeguard against exactly what happened, to protect her from the dangers of the Downtown Eastside that has been the gate to hell for so many young native women.

Her mother had given her up and she had lived in foster care for much of her life.

But she'd been adopted by a pillar of the local native community, her foster mother Glenna Hunt, who brought her up going to church at Vancouver Native Pentecostal every Sunday.

She was part of a tight community of natives linked to Bella Bella who all know each other. She'd even spent her Grade 8 year there, part of the back-and-forth that's common for many native families.

The schools she went to, Britannia elementary and secondary, and the community centre they're integrated with, are legendary for their programs in nurturing native kids.

Raven had loved basketball and track and field. She could run like the wind, her friends remembered. She even talked about wanting to be in the Olympics.

Raven's Girl Guide leader from elementary school, Frances Tan, had promised her a computer if she would hang in and graduate from high school.

And Raven had been accepted in the fall into one of Britannia's special alternative programs for academically talented students who are strong in the arts.

"Raven's test scores were high. Academically, she could definitely handle anything," recalled one of her teachers, Mary-Jo Campbell.

The teachers there still worked all the time to protect even this talented group from the siren call of the Downtown Eastside.

On Friday, a day when the three teachers have a group session with the 22 students in the special 8J9J program, they'd shown them the movie Through a Blue Lens, the dark, police-made film about the horrors of life there.

One teacher even cried, saying he hoped none of them ended up down there.

But Raven wasn't there to see that film or hear that talk. Two months earlier, at the end of January, she'd left the program and left school, drifted away from her friends and started hanging out with some older kids.

She didn't come home Thursday night.

Danielle Robertson, her best friend since kindergarten, saw her that afternoon. Raven had missed her bus, so they hung around on the corner of Broadway and Commercial, talking.

"I never thought that was the last time I would see her," said Danielle, a gifted math student who had begged her teachers to test Raven last fall to get into the 8J9J program she was in.

Friday, Glenna Hunt started calling around to find out where she was.

Saturday, police were called to the Downtown Eastside hotel, which hasn't been identified yet, when her body was found in a room there. They've said there were no signs of foul play, but they're waiting for toxicology reports to see whether it was a drug overdose.

Police described Raven as a "runaway" who had been downtown partying.

For Danielle and Keesha Dawson and Angela George and Maria Joseph and so many of the girls who knew Raven, that description of their childhood friend and the news of her death was utterly shocking.

They hung around outside the teen centre at Britannia in the cold afternoon sunshine Wednesday, where Raven used to hang around with them, talking about her.

"It was a reality check for all of us," said Danielle. "I'd never heard of her partying down there until yesterday. I think it was maybe the first time. She went there once and never made it back."

Danielle said the whole thing shocked and scared her mother, who told her, "That's why I always worry about you."

That's the same kind of thing other mothers from Raven's old church were saying all over east Vancouver this week.

Pastor Bruce Brown at the church heard from several of those mothers, who called him saying, "My child is almost the same age as Raven. What's going to happen to her?"

At the memorial service Wednesday night, where 300 people crowded into the packed church, he preached at length about how hard it was to accept the disaster that had befallen her and the necessity of turning to God for answers.

But he also expressed outrage: "Lord, we know it was not your will that Raven was taken from us. There is something evil that comes and takes away our young people."

Raven's friends tried to talk about her to the audience at the end of the service, when there was an open mike. But only Danielle could maintain her composure, reading a small poem she'd written.

The other girls hugged each other, their backs to the audience, and sobbed.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Actor Jeff Irving revisits scene of crime

Actor Jeff Irving revisits scene of crime to prepare for role of a suicidal survivor

Apr 03, 2008 04:30 AM

Richard Ouzounian

For Jeff Irving, the full horror of the Montreal Massacre never really touched him until he visited the scene of the crime.

"I was only 9 when it happened," begins the 27-year-old actor, rehearsing for next Thursday's Canadian Stage Company opening of The December Man, Colleen Murphy's play inspired by the devastating events of Dec.6, 1989 when Marc Lépine slaughtered 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique.

"I remember seeing something about it on TV and thinking it was terrible," continues Irving, "but then I went on just being a kid and playing with my G.I. Joes."

As the years rolled by, Irving was aware that "there was always that day once a year when we were reminded of it" but it still hadn't penetrated his heart.

Until last October. By then, Irving knew he was playing the character of Jean, one of the male students present that fateful day who survived Lépine's murderous wrath, since it was only directed towards women, the "feminists" who Lépine claimed in his manifesto had ruined his life.

Irving felt that "since I was dealing with an actual historical event, I ought to visit the place where it happened."

His official requests to the École Polytechnique were brushed aside. "They said they didn't want anyone doing any research. They wouldn't offer any assistance to me."

So he went in on his own. "I had read the coroner's report and I knew what room my guy would have been in, so I went up there. A class was just ending and I had the place to myself."

His voice starts to shake as he recalls what happened next.

"I looked over and realized that was the corner where he gathered the women together and shot them. Then I went out into the hallway where the men all waited while it was happening. This dead-end place, with awful sickly green paint and fluorescent lights.

"I just stood there, wondering what it would have been like to hear the gunshots and the screams, and then I turned my video camera on and walked down the escape route that the men all took."

Irving plays one of the supposed survivors of that bloodstained afternoon, but it doesn't quite work out that way.

Murphy has written her play backwards and it's not giving anything away to reveal that in the opening scene, Jean's parents both kill themselves, because they can no longer cope with the fact their son committed suicide after being scarred by the events at the École Polytechnique.

"I think he's trying to figure out why he didn't do anything," says Irving of his character's struggle. "He's trying to understand what made him hold back and didn't try to save those women. The guilt finally overwhelms him and he decides to take his own life in exchange for the ones he didn't save."

Murphy's approach is unique but rooted in fact. There was a young man named Sarto Blais, an Acadian from the Gaspé, who was destroyed in much the same way Irving's character Jean is.

Blais never recovered from "having to pass through blood-spattered hallways where bodies were lying," and although he completed his education and was employed by a construction firm in Montreal, he couldn't outrun his demons.

On Aug.20, 1990, a little more than eight months after the events of that grim December day, Blais hanged himself in the bathroom of his apartment. Eleven months later, his parents also took their own lives.

Shortly after that, the suicide note Blais had penned was made public, in which he said he "could not accept that as a man I had been there and hadn't done anything about it." That's the legacy Colleen Murphy has written and Jeff Irving has to bring to life in The December Man.

"There were so many victims that day," says a visibly shaken Irving. "More than we will ever know."

Just the facts
WHAT: The December Man by Colleen Murphy

WHERE: Berkeley St. Theatre, 26 Berkeley St.

WHEN: April 10 to May 17. Previews start Monday

TICKETS: $18-$58 at 416-368-3110 or

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2008

Wednesday, April 2

Tuned Air concern reaffirms group's talent

April 2, 2008

Songs for Morning uplifts audience while remembering those lost.

The intimacy of the chapel at All Saints by the Sea Anglican Church served the Tuned Air concert Songs for Morning, featuring the premiere of director Bruce Ruddell’s Vigil, with a power made more touching by the stellar workings of the material.

Tuned Air gets stronger and stronger with each outing and though the 36 members had to postpone the concert due to illness — one third of the group was felled by any number of nasty viruses that have circulated this spring — it was well worth the wait.

The whole concert led up to Vigil, created by Ruddell, with musical choices having a mourning theme. Uplifting rather than depressing, the first act celebrated some real stand-outs.

“Because We Believe” by Andrea Bocelli, David Foster and Amy Foster-Gillies showcased Howard Kliaman’s powerful bass voice, that after training at the Victoria Conservatory of Music for over a year, showed excellent control and polish. Sung mostly in Italian, the choir supported Kliaman in English while his enormous voice soared, raising goose bumps.

Bass Don Zacharias’ solo with piano accompanist Chris Kodaly, “There is a Balm in Gilead” arranged by Moses Hogan, soulfully suited the religious setting.

The spiritual “Poor Mourner’s Got a Home At Last” highlighted a strong soprano section while “Dry Your Tears Africa” composed by John Williams from the film Amistead, and sung in an African dialect, was a rousing rendition.

As a string quartet is used in Vigil, we got the treat of hearing String Quartet in G, K.387 by W.A. Mozart with concert master Adrian Dolan (violin), Salt Springer Jean Knight (violin), Larry Hobson (viola) and Karen Whyte (cello).

The second act began with Piano Sonata No. 3 by Johannes Brahms, 2nd Movement: Andante Espressivo played by the inimitable Chris Kodaly. Closing one’s eyes and letting the notes, struck with such reverence without preciousness by Kodaly’s skilled fingers, transported the audience.

After creating the music for Finding Dawn, a National Film Board feature film made by Salt Spring Island based Christine Welsh, Ruddell explained to the audience that he needed to process his experience through working on the film about the “Highway of Tears”, the term used for the stretch of highway from Northern British Columbia through Alberta and into Saskatchewan where mostly aboriginal women have disappeared.

Vigil was born and Tuned Air had the privilege of premiering it.

Composed in three sections, each section begins with the speaking of the women’s names in a searching manner by choir members. With cinematic underscoring by piano and strings, this was as personal and unique to the individual saying their names as it was to those listening.

The lyrics, written by Ruddell, often put down on paper at night, used a couple of reoccurring themes. “Strong Women, Warrior Woman” are words used by Aboriginal women to take back their power.

As a husband and father, Ruddell used “the Watchmen” to establish our responsibility to ensure our loved ones don’t end up with the same fate.

If you believe that the dead can connect to our prayers and thoughts, then last weekend those women were honoured as our own loved ones would be.

Members of the choir are looking for funding to tour this piece, and judging by the response at the premiere, it should.

The piece ends with the words “Not Forgotten.”We won’t.

© Copyright All rights reserved.

Pickton's lawyer argues against adjournment

Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER -- Serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton still may be facing a second trial on 20 murder counts after the 2010 Olympics are over, Pickton's lawyer suggested at a hearing today in New Westminster.

"Mr. Pickton has been facing these charges for six years," defence lawyer Peter Ritchie told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm.

The lawyer urged the judge to dismiss the Crown's application for an adjournment of a trial date for the second trial, arguing further delay will violate Pickton's constitutional right to a speedy trial.

"The defence seeks strongly to fix a trial date today," Ritchie said. "We want a trial at the earliest possible opportunity."

Pickton was found guilty last Dec. 9 of the murders of six women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for at least 25 years. He still faces another 20-court murder trial, which is on hold.

The accused, who was in court Wednesday, made his first appearance on the second trial on Jan. 17. The defence wants a date set for the second trial so new defence lawyer Peter Wilson can assemble a team to begin work on the second trial, which will include new evidence not heard at the first trial, Ritchie told the court.

Wilson provided the judge with three cases on the law concerning trial delay to bolster the defence position. The Crown has asked Dohm to adjourn setting a date for the second trial until after Pickton's appeal can be heard, likely by next year.

Ritchie said if the second trial is delayed until after Pickton's appeal is heard, that means the trial date likely won't be set until September 2009 or later.

"Then we will find out whether the Crown will proceed with this trial or not," Ritchie told the judge.

Not only is it in Pickton's interests to set a trial date now but it's also in the interests of the families of the victims, the lawyer added.

"Society as a whole wants this matter resolved," Ritchie said.

He pointed out that if Pickton's appeal is successful, the appeal ruling will be appealed by the Crown to the Supreme Court of Canada, which will cause further delay.

Prosecutor Melissa Gillespie said the Crown is seeking an adjournment until next year before fixing a trial date for the second trial. By then, she said, Pickton's appeal is expected to be heard by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"Delay is certainly an issue," she said, "but is has to be put in the context of convictions for six counts of murder."

Dohm said he will try to decide the matter by next week and will notify counsel when he has reached a decision.

Attorney-General Wally Oppal announced earlier that if Pickton exhausts all avenues of appeal and remains convicted of six murders, it would not be in the public interest for the Crown to proceed on the second trial.

Meanwhile, the Missing Women Task Force should provide an update to families whose relatives remain on the missing women poster but have not resulted in charges against Pickton, a family member said today.

"We haven't had an update [from investigators] since before the trial," said Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn Crey's DNA was found during a massive search of the Pickton farm in 2002.

He was told by the prosecutor, before Pickton's first trial, that there was insufficient evidence to lay a charge.

Crey said he was shocked to find out from a March 13 letter from Robert Gillen, assistant deputy minister with the criminal justice branch, a division of the attorney-general's ministry, that Dawn's DNA was found "on a garment."

"It is shocking and I don't know the precise details to date," Crey said in an interview about the Crown's latest disclosure about the DNA evidence related to his sister.

"I think it relegates my sister's file to a cold case file," he said. "I have some serious doubt that they're spending time investigating. I find it frustrating and I'm feeling angry."

He said the families of the missing women used to get regular update meetings before Pickton's first trial, but haven't had an update since before the trial began. He said four families were told DNA of their loved ones was found at Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm but received no details about why charges were never laid, other than there was insufficient evidence.

Crey said he plans to meet with Attorney-General Wally Oppal, who has offered to discuss the matter with Crey.

Stan Lowe of the criminal justice branch said officials are willing to meet with Crey to resolve any questions he might have about his sister's case.

"If Mr. Crey has any concerns, we would encourage him to contact the criminal justice branch," Lowe said. "We'll meet with him and we'll do our very best to resolve these issues."

Gillen's letter to Crey, which was provided to The Vancouver Sun by Crey, said the Missing Women Task Force "remains staffed, financed and committed to complete the investigations of all the women that are on the task force poster."

The task force updated its poster last week and there are now 59 photos of missing women. The six women that Pickton is convicted of killing were removed.

The poster still includes the 20 women Pickton is accused of killing and faces a second trial on those first-degree murder charges.

The Vancouver Sun