Thursday, September 30

Women are vanishing–does anyone care?

Thirty-one women went missing before the situation in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside received adequate media coverage. They may be seen as throwaways to society, but each one had a story.

By Leighan Bell

November 2000

"Will they remember me when I’m gone or would their lives just carry on?"

Sarah deVries’ journal- she’s been missing for three years

Before her own daughter Sarah disappeared, Pat deVries didn’t even realize that women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were going missing. In the last couple of years the disappearances haven’t been very public, said deVries. However, she says the amount of coverage has improved considering the general populace’s attitude toward prostitutes. She went on to say that the media is trying to get some horror out of the tragedies with the theory that a serial killer may be at work, "A serial killer makes a good story that people like to read about- if it’s not about them," said deVries.

"They won’t be missed is the feeling of most people," said deVries. But her daughter has certainly been missed. DeVries is raising her two young grandchildren, Jeanie and Ben, in Ontario. Wayne Leng, a close friend of Sarah’s, operates a website devoted to the missing women. Leng is very active in trying to keep up the level of awareness about the mysterious disappearances, "This sort of thing happens all over the place. We don’t seem to want to deal with it."

Sarah initially got involved in the drug scene when she was in her teenage years, and prostitution followed thereafter. "She had no skills for living in a straight world… she was hooked [on drugs] as soon as she started," deVries said about Sarah.

Sarah went missing in April of 1998, just a month before her 29th birthday. "She was a vibrant person with a deep infectious chuckle… both her kids have it," said deVries. She describes Sarah as being a strong- willed, generous and loving person who liked art and poetry.

DeVries described a story that Sarah’s friend and former roommate Christine told her last summer: eight women were trying to sleep in one room. Four were in a double bed and four more were on the floor. Christine complained to Sarah that the two of them were the only ones paying rent and that the others should leave. But Sarah refused to kick them out because she said they would be safe there with them. DeVries said that if Sarah could help people she always would.

Descriptions of Sarah come in the past tense- she believes her daughter is dead. Sarah’s children know what their Grandma believes happened to their mother, "People have a right to know about their own reality," said deVries. According to Leng, Sarah’s daughter Jeanie said, "You know, just because these women are addicted to drugs doesn’t mean they need to die."

We’ll always have the beautiful memories

Lynn Frey

Step-mom Lynn Frey can still recall her daughter Marnie’s love for animals, athletics, drawing and poetry. She describes Marnie as being a typical child who liked climbing trees, horseback riding, and playing in her fort. "She wasn’t afraid of anything," Frey said. She describes Marnie’s appearance- tall, thin, with olive skin and dark brownish- black hair. She had a round face when she was healthy and was a very attractive girl, Frey said quietly as she remembered her missing daughter.

"Street workers are treated like their garbage… to a majority of society they are just bums. They don’t think they have families and are loved," said Frey. She used to go to Vancouver and look for her daughter on the streets after she went missing. She always came home alone.

Marnie was just 24 when she disappeared four years ago from the Downtown Eastside. She began getting involved in drugs while living at home in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island. She began going to Vancouver and got involved in prostitution as a way to pay for her drug habit. There were three times when she tried to stop doing heroin: Marnie would tell her mom, "I don’t like feeling this way. I need help," said Frey. She was not successful in getting treatment and her addition raged on. The last time Marnie’s family spoke to her was in August of 1997 when she called from a pay phone on Hastings Street in Vancouver.

"I miss her dearly. I wish she would pick up the phone, but I know it’s not going to happen… I know damn well we’re not going to find her alive- she’s gone," said Frey.

"…Just another day/ Just another death/ Just one more thing you go forget/ You and your soft, sheltered life/ Just go on and on/ For nobody special from your world is gone/ Just another day/ Just another death/ Just another Hastings street whore sentenced to death…"

Sarah deVries

Thirty-one sex-trade workers, many of whom were addicted to drugs, are officially included in the growing list of women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside stroll or ‘low track’. It is estimated that the actual number of missing women is between 45 and 60, and they are presumed dead, possibly at the hands of a serial killer. Although contact with their families may have been infrequent or sporadic, none of the women have been heard from in quite some time. Their welfare checks have not been picked up, nor did they leave with any of their belongings.

Many of the people interviewed for this article have said prostitutes are treated as if they are expendable or throwaways. But to their families and others close to them, these women were mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. If the media can pick up that the women have more to them than just being sex trade workers and drug addicts then it’s a fuller picture, said Erin McGrath, the sister of victim Leigh Miner.

Without people advocating for them there are barriers and their voices don’t get heard; it’s a segment of society that doesn’t have economic and social power, said Marika Sandrelli of PACE (Prostitution Alternatives Counseling Education). Sandrelli said it has almost been normalized that people go missing from the Downtown Eastside and people just shrug their shoulders because they have discriminatory attitudes toward sex-trade workers and drug addicts.

Leng points out that in recent months they have been identified collectively in the media as ‘missing women’ instead of ‘missing prostitutes.’ To the families and friends of the missing women that is a step in the right direction toward giving the women the coverage they deserve. Before this year, a lot of the articles written were negative in terms of the language used to describe the women. They were commonly referred to as hookers, prostitutes and drug addicts rather than as missing women.

In the past, the media has quoted sources saying things to the effect of "They sell sex, so what do you expect to happen to them?" said Dorothy E. Chunn, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU). An example of this is in a May article by the Times Colonist; it says, "prostitutes are also killed because of their lifestyle." Statements such as that continue to further perpetuate the notion that the women are somehow responsible for the violence they encounter.

The coverage was not as compassionate, nor did it focus on the fact that each woman was a human being rather than merely a prostitute or a hooker. Indeed, missing women did receive some media coverage, but it wasn’t until the last year or so the situation was consistently placed on the front pages- where other murder victim’s stories are put. The media coverage has really taken off now that the Vancouver Police Department has acknowledged that a serial killer may be at work.

The media coverage has increased in the last year, but as Constable Dave Dickson of the Vancouver Police department said, "It’s not a big story to them [the media] unless a whole bunch go missing." The Vancouver Sun newspaper has been running features about the women since last spring, but it took a long time and many disappearances before a keen interest was given to the issue. "It’s been going on for years, pretty much invisibly," said Robert Hackett, a communications professor at SFU.

There have been a lot of complaints about how prostitutes have been treated by the police and the media said Karlene Faith, professor of criminology at SFU. Faith went on to say that in the last year the missing women have been given more media attention, but not the kind of coverage that 40 miscellaneous people would receive.

Mary Lynn Young, an assistant journalism professor at the University of British Columbia said that the Vancouver Sun has done an extremely good job reporting, and has shone a much-needed spotlight on the problem. The television show ‘America’s Most Wanted’ has also run a special about the issue. In the past year, coverage has certainly increased, and articles are being run in other countries, including the US and England. The television program ‘The Fifth Estate’ is also running a feature on the missing women in December.

"By virtue of the fact that they sell sex they aren’t seen as worthy victims," said Chunn. The disparity of coverage is obvious when compared to someone like Melanie Carpenter, the beautiful 20-year-old who was murdered in 1995, "Melanie Carpenter is the perfect example of a credible victim… for white people we tend to identify with people who are seemingly like us," said Chun. "The level of sympathy for the victim [Carpenter] is higher because she’s seen as being pretty and innocent," said Faith. Carpenter’s tragedy was given extensive coverage by the media, and was given page one coverage. Even her funeral was televised.

None of the families interviewed have ever seen a front-page article devoted solely to their loved one alone. Coverage in the newspapers has only been given to the women as a group. This is a significant difference between the level of coverage for these women and other ‘worthy victims’ whose images are featured on the front pages. "It’s a tough time getting them [the media] to do a story on one person," said Constable Dickson.

The coverage doesn’t give the complete picture, just snap shots, and it continues to perpetuate the myths surrounding prostitution, because the media doesn’t get the authentic voices of those involved, said Sandrelli. She went on to say, "Ignorance is bliss. Not knowing or not wanting to know keeps you detached. Once you know you can’t cry out naivety."

The level of prostitution on the low track hasn’t decreased significantly even with the looming threat of a serial killer. According to Leng, the women are always on guard but because of the drugs they feel they will be okay. Constable Dickson concurs with that statement saying that the women are concerned, but they don’t have the power to do anything about it, "Their lifestyle is so horrendous, they just live day-to-day," he said.

Leng said that in the beginning there wasn’t much coverage at all, and that friends and family members of the women had to search to get coverage. He said that constant contact and pressure with the media has continued to fuel the stories. McGrath said, "If I had not have gone to the media my sisters name wouldn’t be made public at all… but if it wasn’t for the media we wouldn’t be where we are today."

Key members of Braidwood Commission to steer Pickton Inquiry

Marcella Bernardo | 

A few more details have been ironed out for the public inquiry into Vancouver's missing women.

The team supporting former Attorney General Wally Oppal includes two key members of the Braidwood Commission into the 2007 taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski.

  Art Vertlieb has been named counsel for the commission and he will be its primary spokesman.

Chris Freimond will also be handling all media relations and setting up a website for public access.

No word yet on when hearings officially start, but Oppal must deliver his findings by the end of next year.

The 70-year old former judge, who was BC's Attorney General from 2005 until he was defeated in last year's provincial election,  will examine evidence collected between January 1997 and February 2002, when serial killer Robert Pickton was arrested.

A good step in addressing antiquated sex-trade laws

A good step in addressing antiquated sex-trade laws
Paula Simons

Paula Simons

Photograph by: staff,

It is, according to cliche, the world's oldest profession. And ever since Eve Jr. first offered to show Cain Jr. a good time behind the fig tree, we've been arguing about how to regulate it.

For many, prostitution is immoral, a debasement of human intimacy that demeans and degrades both buyer and seller. But prostitution is also a fact of life. And in Canada, it's perfectly legal.

Nothing in law prevents a woman (or a man) from selling sexual services. Our bodies are our own, and if we choose to sell them, the law says that we may.

But Canada's Criminal Code coyly attempts to have it both ways. While prostitution isn't banned, the law forbids people to live on the avails of prostitution, to communicate in a public place for purposes of prostitution or to run a bawdy house.

The idea is to prevent prostitution from becoming a noxious public nuisance and to protect women from victimization by pimps.

Those are two laudable goals. But some advocates for the rights of sex-trade workers argue that those same laws are counter-productive, that they put women at risk by forcing them to work the streets alone, without the protections offered by a male protector or the collective safety of a brothel. Those advocates argue that women would be far safer if they worked indoors and in groups, and if they could talk to their johns to pre-screen them.

On Tuesday, a landmark ruling from Ontario's Superior Court agreed with those arguments. In a 131-page, carefully researched judgment which she took a year to write, Justice Susan Himel ruled that Canada's prostitution laws were overbroad, arbitrary and grossly disproportionate to their legal objective. Specifically citing the case of B.C. serial killer Robert Pickton and Project KARE's investigation into the deaths of Edmonton-area prostitutes, Himel concluded that the current Criminal Code provisions put sex-trade workers in such danger, as to constitute a breach of their charter rights.

"Prostitutes are faced with deciding between their liberty and their security of the person," wrote Himel.

"Thus, while it is ultimately the client who inflicts violence upon a prostitute, in my view the law plays a sufficient contributory role in preventing a prostitute from taking steps that could reduce the risk of such violence."

On Wednesday, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was quick to announce that his government will appeal the ruling.

Ottawa is quite right to file an appeal. One lower court judge in one province shouldn't be given the responsibility of rewriting Canada's prostitution laws so dramatically. This is a judgment that must be tested and clarified by a higher court.

I accept Himel's argument that the current law puts sex-trade workers at higher risk.

Yet it's a mighty big leap to go from that finding of fact to a legal conclusion that the law actually strips peoples of their charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person. The Harper government isn't forcing anyone to work as a street prostitute.

And while taking in-calls might be safer than hooking on the street, the sex trade will always be high risk.

Striking down the current law would do nothing to protect women from exploitive pimps or from being abused in brothels run by gangsters or sex traffickers.

Nor do I buy the argument that brothels or pimps would necessarily save the sort of vulnerable, desperate, addicted street prostitutes who are most likely to fall prey to the Robert Picktons or Thomas Sveklas of this world.

Still, Himel should be applauded for a provocative ruling that lays bare the absurd hypocrisy of our current attitude toward bawdy houses.

According to the City of Edmonton licensing department, there are six legally licensed escort agencies in our city, as well as15 licensed independent escorts.

There are also 514 licensed "massage centres" in the city. The vast majority offer legitimate therapeutic massage. But during a 2009 court case, city bylaw officer Nick Stasiuk testified that at least 42 were believed to be connected to prostitution.

This city already has dozen of working brothels. We just turn a blind eye to what we'd rather not see.

As for the ban on communicating for the purposes of prostitution, what good does it do in world of texting and tweeting, where people can organize sexual transactions online without speaking a word?

Himel is right. Canada's current prostitution laws are arbitrary, counter-intuitive and counter-productive. We need an honest system of regulation that acknowledges the reality and the legality of prostitution, protects sex-trade workers from violence and exploitation, and protects neighbourhoods from blight.

Striking down our defective dated law entirely gets us only halfway there. Yet it's not enough for Ottawa to defend the status quo. If the Harper Conservatives don't like the Ontario court ruling, they need to fix the law themselves, to bring it from the Edwardian era into the 21st century. If Parliament won't take that responsibility, MPs can't complain if the court rewrites the law for them.

Lawyer from Dziekanski inquiry named lead counsel for Pickton hearings - Winnipeg Free Press

Lawyer from Dziekanski inquiry named lead counsel for Pickton hearings - Winnipeg Free Press

VANCOUVER - A lawyer experienced at getting answers to potentially explosive questions about police conduct has been named the lead counsel at the public inquiry into the failed investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Art Vertlieb was one of two commission lawyers at last year's public inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski, sharing the task of questioning dozens of witnesses including the officers involved in Dziekanski's fatal confrontation at Vancouver's airport.

He will perform the same duties at the inquiry into the missing and murdered women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

It's not clear when the hearings will begin, but current Attorney General Mike de Jong wants the final report by the end of next year.

Earlier this week, de Jong announced former attorney general Wally Oppal, who was a judge for decades before entering politics, would lead the inquiry.

The probe will examine why police failed to catch Pickton as he hunted sex workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, continuing for years even after he caught the attention of police.

Find this article at:

Wally Oppal says Missing Women Commission will hear from the community, but not Pickton | Vancouver, Canada |

Wally Oppal says Missing Women Commission will hear from the community, but not Pickton | Vancouver, Canada |
By Charlie Smith

The man heading up the Missing Women Commission says he doesn’t expect to hear any testimony from convicted serial killer Robert William Pickton.

“I don’t see it because, really, we’re not dealing with his guilt, innocence, or anything of that sort,” Wally Oppal told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “What we’re dealing with here is, basically, the police response to the complaints. So I don’t see it.”

He promised that the commission will get into the community. “I can assure you that we’ll go to the Aboriginal Friendship Centre,” he said. “We’ll go to the Downtown Eastside and we’ll talk to you. I feel strong about this and I’m very committed to this. This is what I’ve spend my whole working life on.”

Oppal said that the commission’s terms of reference provide room to address the police response to the disappearances of women in the area around Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears, between Prince Rupert and Prince George. More than 30 women have vanished since 1969 along the route.

"It [the commission] involves the taking of complaints—and how do police respond to complaints? What do they do with the complaints?” he said. “This is what we want to look at.”

Earlier this week, NDP Leader Carole James told the Straight that there is a “perception” among some that Oppal is in a conflict of interest because he was attorney general from 2005 to 2009.

Oppal rejected that assertion, noting that the inquiry’s terms of reference only cover the years between 1997 and 2002. “There is absolutely no conflict here,” he maintained. “You think we wouldn’t look at that?”

Women went missing in the Downtown Eastside in the 1980s and early 1990s, and this was covered in the media at the time.

The commission’s terms of reference exclude the period from 1986 to 1993 when Premier Gordon Campbell, as Vancouver’s mayor, chaired the Vancouver police board.

Oppal said that he had no role in creating the terms of reference, saying this was done by the government.

When Oppal was asked if the terms were drafted to ensure that the premier wouldn't be called to testify, he replied: “Oh, I didn’t know anything about that. You’ve got that conspiratorial mind, Charlie. It’s healthy in your job.”

He also stated that he has worked very closely with the aboriginal community as attorney general, citing the creation of a community court in the Downtown Eastside as proof of his concern.

Oppal added that he grew up with First Nations people in the Vancouver Island community of Duncan.

“I played baseball and basketball with aboriginal people,” Oppal recalled. “I went up to Williams Lake and defended aboriginal people pro bono.”

He also said that his commission of inquiry in municipal policing in the early 1990s led to the creation of the domestic-violence response team. “The fact that I was in government [from] 2005 to 2009 is clearly immaterial to what we’re doing,” he said. “So I don’t understand why some of the people are upset about that.”

The commission’s terms of reference require it to make findings of fact concerning the Criminal Justice Branch’s decision to stay charges of attempted murder, forcible confinement, and aggravated assault against Pickton in 1998.

Oppal said he will be inquiring into an event that occurred long before he became attorney general in 2005 and started overseeing the Criminal Justice Branch.

The Straight asked if his conclusions could have an impact on any lawsuits that could be filed against the Crown for not proceeding with charges against Pickton in 1998. “Whatever findings we make will not affect the right to sue if they want to sue for what happened at that time,” he replied.

Wally Oppal waffled about necessity of Missing Women Commission of Inquiry | Vancouver, Canada |

Wally Oppal waffled about necessity of Missing Women Commission of Inquiry | Vancouver, Canada |
By Charlie Smith

Well before the September 28 appointment of Wally Oppal to head a public inquiry into the missing-women investigations, he was asked about the topic on CBC Radio.

{sidebar title='Missing Women Commission´s terms of reference'}
  • Conduct hearings in or near Vancouver to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the conduct of the missing women investigations between January 23, 1997, and February 5, 2002.
  • Inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998, to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against Robert William Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement, and aggravated assault.
  • Recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in British Columbia of missing women and suspected multiple homicides.
  • Recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in B.C. by more than one investigating organization, including the coordination of those investigations.
  • Submit a final report to the attorney general by December 31, 2011.
Source: B.C. Ministry of Attorney General {/sidebar}

“I think an inquiry should only be held if we think we can learn something from the inquiry,” Oppal told Rick Cluff, host of The Early Edition, on August 6. “We’ve had an exhaustive trial here. And a lot of evidence has come out. A lot of people have recognized that we could have done things a lot better.”

Oppal stated that inquiries can take on a life of their own. He also said they’re expensive. “You establish an inquiry and then you’ve got 25 lawyers in the room,” he claimed. “And the inquiries go on forever.”

Cluff then asked Oppal a second time whether there should be a public inquiry into the investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton. Again, Oppal waffled.

“We know that there are multiple policing agencies in the Lower Mainland,” the former attorney general said. “And are we going to learn anything by virtue of the fact that there were multiple investigations going on? Should the complaints have been received in a different way? So those are things that sometimes the police can do themselves. Sometimes government can assist them doing those things. So merely because things didn’t go the way they should have gone doesn’t necessarily mean we should embark on a lengthy inquiry.”

Several minutes later, Cluff asked the question a third time. Oppal responded that he wasn’t saying there shouldn’t be an inquiry.

“I’m just saying that if we’re going to have an inquiry, let’s put a proper focus on the inquiry,” he emphasized. “And let’s find out what issues we’re going to inquire into.”

Oppal’s comments on CBC disturbed Jamie Lee Hamilton, a former street prostitute of aboriginal descent and a long-time advocate for sex workers. She told the Georgia Straight in a September 28 phone interview that the former attorney general’s remarks demonstrated that he was “noncommittal” on the need for a public inquiry into the missing women.

“So I have no confidence in him,” Hamilton declared. “The appointment should be rescinded, and the government needs to come back to the various stakeholders [and] communities of interest and properly consult.”

Hamilton is the spokesperson for the Community Inquiry Committee, which is composed of sex workers, advocates, and relatives of the missing women. On September 7, the CIC wrote to Attorney General Mike de Jong and Premier Gordon Campbell asking that the terms of reference for a public inquiry focus on the safety of sex workers. Moreover, the CIC wanted the inquiry to be headed by the B.C. representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and to review policies dating back to 1983.

The Oppal-led inquiry’s terms of reference do not address the safety of the sex trade. His mandate covers the period from 1997 to 2002, which means it doesn’t address the period from 1986 to 1993, when Campbell chaired the Vancouver police board.

B.C. NDP Leader Carole James wouldn’t say that Oppal’s appointment should be rescinded. However, in a phone interview with the Straight, James criticized the B.C. Liberal government’s refusal to consult with the community before selecting a commissioner. She noted that there is a perception among some families of missing women and within the aboriginal community that Oppal’s former cabinet position means he’s too close to the government to be independent.

“I think the government has got to answer for the questions around perception of conflict,” James said. “I think Mr. Oppal is going to have to answer them. Whether he can do that to the satisfaction of the families and the aboriginal community and the community at large remains to be seen. I think that conversation should have occurred first, instead of after the appointment.”

The Straight asked the Ministry of Attorney General for an opportunity to interview Oppal. Oppal did not call back by deadline.

What do you think of the appointment of Wally Oppal to head the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry?

Libby Davies
NDP MP, Vancouver East

“He has a credible background in the judiciary. He will have to demonstrate that he is completely independent, given his close association as a [former] minister with the Campbell government. He’s there to represent the public interest, and he will have to show all of us that that’s what he is going to do.”

Sue Davis
Sex worker

“The police are once again going to be investigating the police. Wally Oppal was the top cop [as attorney general], and now he’s going to be investigating the failings of the police in this matter. I think it was very shortsighted of them to appoint somebody who was formerly involved with the criminal-justice system in that capacity.”

Dave Jones
Former Vancouver police inspector

“It’s certainly an interesting choice.…He talked about regionalization [in the past] as being something that needed to happen and…it appears that one of the issues in the Pickton thing was the left hand and the right hand [were] not necessarily working against each other but not necessarily working together in the most productive ways.”

Victor Wong
Executive director, Chinese Canadian National Council

“I think those of us who’ve followed him know that he’s a man of integrity, really a groundbreaking person in many ways, one of the first nonwhites appointed to the bench. He’s served as attorney general in the province.…I think the government’s made an excellent choice in asking him to head up this inquiry.”

Wally Oppal waffled about necessity of Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

Wally Oppal waffled about necessity of Missing Women Commission of Inquiry

Ruling recognizes rights of sex-trade workers

Ruling recognizes rights of sex-trade workers
Hedy Fry, M.P. Vancouver Centre.

Hedy Fry, M.P. Vancouver Centre.

Photograph by: David Akin/Canwest, NP

Letter submitted by Hedy Fry, M.P. Vancouver Centre, to The Vancouver Sun:

Yesterday's Ontario Superior Court ruling decriminalises solicitation, keeping a bawdy house and living off the avails of prostitution, components of the Canadian Criminal code.

In effect the ruling removes criminal sanction from an occupation that is not in itself illegal in Canada (prostitution has been legal since 1985).

This is an important step in recognising the constitutional rights of adult sex-trade workers to security of the person and acknowledges the difference between the rights of consenting adults and the exploitation of vulnerable persons.

The ruling is not the only solution. But, it is an important start.

When we traveled across the country as a Parliamentary, all Party, Sub-Committee on Solicitation in 2004 and 2005, we listened to the testimony of police, NGO’s community groups, academics and sex-trade workers.

The trigger for the committee hearings were the missing and dead women in Vancouver's Downtown East side.

We re-read the Fraser report commissioned by Trudeau, which even then recommended the decriminalisation of the three components of the criminal code. We referenced the LeDain Commission. We traveled across the nation and listened.

What we learned was that the most exploited and poor women were street sex-workers; mostly women, addicted, living in poverty and in desperate need of the pittance they earned.

We also learned that they were the most at risk. The fear of being 'picked up' for soliciting caused them to go into darker alleys and isolated areas where they became the prey of misogynists and violent predators.

At the same time news papers and phone books continue to solicit customers for so -called 'escort services' and fake massage parlours.

No one wants their child to become a sex trade worker. Risk of harm is inherent in that occupation. But the fact is that there are sex-trade workers, especially street workers, who face greater risks daily, because they cannot call the police for protection or report a 'bad trick'.

Like it or not prostitution has existed since the beginning of human society. We do not have to condone it, but the state cannot continue to place these women at risk with the current laws.

There are still those who say that street-sex workers are 'not respectable' and the work they do is shameful and indecent; ergo these are 'throw away' humans who deserve what they get.

I know that the families of the women, murdered in the Downtown East side, will disagree. They were loved: daughters, sisters, mothers who at certain times in their lives faced enormous challenges that led them down a different path.

The state above all cannot be devoid of compassion and care for all of its citizens. The responsibility to do so is not limited to the 'decent' nor can it subjectively and ideologically measure that 'virtue'.

As a Committee we recommended a comprehensive action plan, in our 2006 report, which was ignored by the current federal government.

These strategies included dealing with issues of poverty, addiction, the plight of urban aboriginals, prevention, education and helping women in the sex-trade with exit strategies when they wish to do so.

The first step however is to recognise that sex-trade workers like other Canadian citizens have the same right to protection and security of their persons. That is what the Superior Court of Ontario did yesterday.


Hon. Hedy Fry, M.P. Vancouver Centre

Editorial: Sex-trade ruling should be obeyed

Editorial: Sex-trade ruling should be obeyed

The Ontario court decision striking down some of the laws around prostitution is a welcome injection of logic into a discussion characterized mostly by emotion and misinformation.

The issue before Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel was straightforward. Prostitution itself is legal in Canada. But Parliament has criminalized most aspects of the sex trade. Three sex workers argued that three of those laws served mainly to increase the risks for workers and violated the constitutional right to safety and security.

For example, the law makes it illegal to operate a bawdy house -- basically anywhere indoors where prostitution takes place. That forces people working in what is a legal trade to operate on the streets.

But research -- including federal government reports -- has found that violence is significantly reduced in indoor settings where clients can be screened and help is available. Similarly, Criminal Code provisions against communicating in a public place for the purposes of prostitution drive workers into dark, deserted and dangerous neighbourhoods and encourage snap judgments about potential clients.

The court's decision was based on the evidence presented by all the parties to the case. It established that the laws did increase the danger for the workers, who are mainly women.

But that is not necessarily grounds for declaring the provisions unconstitutional. The challenge to the laws also had to show that they were arbitrary, broader than required to achieve their purpose and that their harmful effects were "grossly disproportionate" to the benefits gained by enforcing the laws.

After hearing the evidence -- including studies showing an increase in murders of sex trade workers after the ban on communication for the purposes of prostitution was introduced -- the court concluded the challenge had met those tests.

Himel, after hearing from dozens of witnesses, reviewing years of research and studying laws around the world, reached the conclusion that the three laws resulted in greater risks for those in what Parliament has decided is a legal trade.

And that they delivered no offsetting benefit to communities or individuals.

Sadly, the intrusion of reason was short-lived. Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced the government would appeal the ruling out of concern for the "safety" of sex-trade workers.

That's bizarre. The evidence demonstrated that the laws resulted in beatings, robberies and murders. They increased the danger that thousands of people face in their work. They did not deliver any protection for society or individuals.

Yet the government will fight to maintain the deadly status quo, no matter what the facts are.

It was a grim irony that the Ontario ruling came on the same day the B.C. government launched an inquiry into the Pickton murders and Vancouver's missing women. Many of his victims were in the street sex trade. Had the law not forced them into danger and the shadows, Pickton might never have succeeded in his years of bloody crime.

The Ontario judgment was not about whether prostitution was or should be legal. Parliament has decided that it is.

The court was asked to rule whether related laws put people's lives at risk without achieving any positive benefits.

They do. It's shameful that the federal government is fighting to perpetuate bad laws.

Wally Oppal sidestepped CBC's questions last month on a public inquiry into missing women | Vancouver, Canada |

Wally Oppal sidestepped CBC's questions last month on a public inquiry into missing women | Vancouver, Canada |

Charlie Smith

Wally Oppal told CBC Radio last month that a public inquiry should only be held into the Pickton investigation if society will learn anything from it.

By Charlie Smith,

The man who heads the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was noncommital on the need for such an inquiry during a radio interview last month.

On CBC Radio's The Early Edition on August 6, host Rick Cluff asked former attorney general Wally Oppal three times if he felt there should be a public inquiry into the handling of the missing-women cases.

In his first answer, Oppal said: "Well you know, I think an inquiry should only be held if we think we can learn something from the inquiry. We’ve had an exhaustive trial here. And a lot of evidence has come out. A lot of people have recognized that we could have done things a lot better.

"The.police issued such a statement the other day," Oppal continued. "I think there has to be a greater sharing of information. That seems farily obvious from what has been said. When you’re holding an inquiry you have to ask yourself, uhm, 'Are we going to learn anything?' And from learning something from the inquiry, 'Will things improve?' The Braidwood inquiry was a classic example where we did learn something from, from the incident that took place."

Oppal then said: "Often inquiries take on a life of their own. You establish an inquiry and then you’ve got 25 lawyers in the room. And the inquiries go on forever and ever, but—and they’re expensive. I know that is not the governing factor at the end of the day. We really have to—you have to keep a lid on an inquiry. And Tom Braidwood did an absolutely splendid job of doing that and he kept a focus on the inquiry and that’s what we have to keep in mind if we are going to have an inquiry.”

To his credit, Cluff repeated the question.

Here was Oppal's second response: "Well, I think that, I think that, what we should know is, what we should know is that how can the policing improve the next time around if regrettably there is a next time around. Or how do police improve communications between themselves, amongst themselves. We know that there are multiple policing agencies in the Lower Mainland. And are we going to learn anything uh, by virtue of the fact that there were multiple investigations going on? Should the complaints have been received in a different way? So those are things that sometimes the police can do themselves. Sometimes government can assist them doing those things. So, so merely because things didn’t go the way they should have gone doesn’t necessarily mean we should embark on a lengthy inquiry.”

Later in the interview, The Early Edition played a clip of Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn's DNA was found on the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam.

Crey said that the provincial government pursued policies that compelled women to live in the Downtown Eastside, where they were vulnerable to a horrible and murderous predator such as Robert Pickton.

Crey said a public inquiry was necessary because social policies and health policies need to change to address this issue.

Cluff then asked Oppal if he favoured a public inquiry on those grounds.

Here was Oppal's response: "Look I’m not saying there shouldn’t be an inquiry. I’m just saying that if we’re going to have an inquiry, let’s put a proper focus on the inquiry. And let’s find out what issues we’re going to inquire into. Uhm, you know, I was there when we established the Braidwood inquiry. So I’m in favour of inquiries if we can learn something from them and there are no constraints on the inquiries. So I’m in favour of it if we can do that. But I’m not in favour of open-ended inquiries that go on forever and ever. That’s the concern that I would have.”

Oppal's too establishment to take on Pickton inquiry

Oppal's too establishment to take on Pickton inquiry
Province provincial affairs columnist Michael Smyth

Province provincial affairs columnist Michael Smyth

Photograph by: File photo, The Province

Just about everybody likes Wally Oppal, which is saying a lot for an ex-politician. Hey, it's hard not to like a fellow with a twinkle in his eye, a ready smile and a passion for collecting old Beatles records.

But being a good guy doesn't cut the mustard when it comes to heading a public inquiry into a case as controversial as the Robert Pickton serial killings.

This inquiry calls for someone whose approach to the facts cannot be questioned in the slightest.

But Oppal is a former attorney-general, personally recruited into politics by Premier Gordon Campbell. Once in government, he defended the actions of police when they'd been accused of bungling or misconduct.

He even defended the Pickton investigation itself, after First Nations leaders suggested police are slow to investigate suspected crimes when victims are aboriginal.

Accusations of police racism "aren't valid," Oppal said last year, noting that most of Pickton's victims were native and "that was one of the most exhaustive police investigations in our history."

He may be right. But can he run a fair inquiry when he's already made up his mind?

This inquiry needs someone who's unafraid to confront the system, turn it upside down and give it a good shake. Wally Oppal may be willing and able to do that — but in the minds of the public, he is the system.

Just two years ago, Oppal defended the rights of Crown prosecutors not to testify at an inquest into the system's handling of a deranged man who was released from custody and then killed his family. That's not confronting the system — that's protecting it.

Of course, Oppal insists no witnesses will appear before him who will place him in a conflict of interest.

Really? What if Gordon Campbell is called to testify? The same Gordon Campbell who chaired the Vancouver Police Board when women were disappearing in the late 1980s and early '90s. The same Gordon Campbell who said: "We keep hearing about these prostitutes or hookers who are being killed. Is there a trend? Is there a pattern? The answer is no."

Wally Oppal is a nice guy — but the wrong guy for this job.

HST RUMOUR MILL: Could Gordon Campbell announce a reduction in the harmonized sales tax at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention this week?

The government has already hinted that it's looking at tax reductions. What better tax to reduce if Campbell hopes to win that referendum next year and save his political bacon?

The UBCM convention in Whistler, where Campbell has a keynote speech this Friday, could be the perfect venue to announce a cut in the tax from 12 to 11 per cent. Campbell has a history of making surprise good-news announcements at UBCM gatherings.

Although the HST referendum is still a year away, announcing an HST reduction now could give him time to dole out even more goodies next year.

We shall see . . .

Prostitutes were murdered because of our laws | Mindelle Jacobs | Columnists | Comment | Toronto Sun

Prostitutes were murdered because of our laws | Mindelle Jacobs | Columnists | Comment | Toronto Sun

Prostitutes were murdered because of our laws

Last Updated: September 30, 2010 2:00am

Despite overwhelming evidence that our prostitution laws have not only failed to curb the sex trade but contributed to violence against prostitutes, our MPs have refused to enact reforms.

Over the past couple of decades, about 300 street prostitutes have disappeared or been murdered in Canada, including the 26 women slaughtered on Robert Pickton’s pig farm.

On Tuesday, after spending months wading through thousands of pages of affidavits, an Ontario Superior Court judge concluded our prostitution laws, which are theoretically supposed to protect women, actually hurt them.

“Canada’s prohibition of all public communications for the purpose of prostitution is no longer in step with changing international responses,” declared Justice Susan Himel.

Our laws banning soliciting, living off the avails of prostitution and operating a bawdy house actually put prostitutes at greater risk of violence, she concluded, striking down all three Criminal Code provisions.

The federal government has appealed the ruling and it will likely be several years before the Supreme Court of Canada weighs in on the issue.

But that didn’t dampen the elation of either Alan Young, the Toronto lawyer who spearheaded the court challenge, or John Lowman, the Vancouver criminologist who submitted an affidavit supporting the repeal of the Criminal Code sections.

Legalizing prostitution won’t save every sex trade worker from harm, concedes Young. Impoverished, drug-addicted street prostitutes don’t have the wherewithal to move indoors, he explains.

Still, if soliciting had been legal, perhaps only 10 dead woman would have been found on Pickton’s farm, instead of 26, says Young.

In other words, if changing our laws can save more women, why the heck aren’t we doing it?

“Can we do any worse?” quips Lowman.

This is the first time this much evidence surrounding prostitution has been reviewed by a court, he says.

“Research was on trial,” says Lowman. “Finally, when somebody was forced to sit down and dispassionately and objectively look at the evidence, (Himel) saw the obvious.”

As recently as 2006, MPs from all parties on a House of Commons subcommittee on solicitation laws concluded sexual activities between consenting adults shouldn’t be criminalized. But nothing was done.

“The judge has now said those laws are contributing to violence against sex workers and violating their rights,” says Lowman. “I can’t imagine a better time or more appropriate occasion for a court to tell a duly elected government to take responsibility for its actions.”

Many may not realize it, but prostitution is legal in Canada. The government chose to criminalize certain activities associated with the sex trade to minimize the exploitation of women, neighbourhood disorder and the social nuisance aspect of the sex trade.

But the consequences — the deaths and disappearances of hundreds of vulnerable women — have been far worse than the harms the government hoped to reduce.

Working in-call, such as in brothels, is actually the safest way to sell sex, noted the judge. But that risks bawdy house charges.

Street prostitution is the most dangerous because the soliciting ban prevents women from screening clients, the judge added.

In effect, our laws have facilitated the murder of scores of marginalized women. No amount of self-righteous moralizing can remove that stain.

How many more women will die before prostitution is legalized?

Wednesday, September 29

Violence Against Women on the Rise in Vancouver as the VPD Takes Heat Over Missing Women

Violence Against Women on the Rise in Vancouver as the VPD Takes Heat Over Missing Women

Update: Oppal should step aside from Pickton inquiry say family members of missing women

Update: Oppal should step aside from Pickton inquiry say family members of missing women
Ernie Crey, brother of missing woman, Dawn Crey, who's DNA was found on the Robert Pickton property,  comments Tuesday on the announcment of the Missing Women Commision of Inquiry. B.C. Attorney General Michael de Jong announced the terms of reference and the appointment of Wally Oppal as commissioner of the Pickton public inquiry.

Ernie Crey, brother of missing woman, Dawn Crey, who's DNA was found on the Robert Pickton property, comments Tuesday on the announcment of the Missing Women Commision of Inquiry. B.C. Attorney General Michael de Jong announced the terms of reference and the appointment of Wally Oppal as commissioner of the Pickton public inquiry.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, PNG

Another family member has come forward urging former attorney general Wally Oppal to step aside as head of the public inquiry into the Missing Women case.

Maggie de Vries, who has been urging an inquiry for years, said today that she wants the probe handled by someone “truly at arms-length from government and police,” and someone who does not already have publicly stated opinions on key issues.

“For 12 years, I have lived with all that was done wrong and the needless deaths that resulted,” said de Vries, whose sister, Sarah, is listed among serial killer Robert Pickton’s suspected victims.

“For at least eight of those years, I have hoped that an eventual inquiry might lead to change, that at least my sister's and the other women's deaths could lead to changes that might save other women's lives.

“I respect Wally Oppal as an individual, but in this instance, I hope that he will step aside.”

The B.C. government faces a growing a backlash against Oppal’s appointment.

Earlier today, Ernie Crey, the brother of one of the missing women said the inquiry has been compromised before it begins by the “overwhelmingly negative” response to Oppal’s appointment.

“If no one has any confidence in him, I just don’t see how they can go ahead,” Crey said.

“Anyone heading up such an inquiry needs the confidence not only of the attorney general and cabinet, but the public at large, the families affected by Pickton’s crimes, and the groups and organizations who lobbied so hard for the inquiry.”

Family members and organizations, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, complain that Oppal’s appointment undermines the independence of the inquiry, which is supposed to be independent of government and police. Oppal sat at the Liberal cabinet table until last May, and defended the government’s policies on policing and criminal prosecutions, all of which could be examined as part of an inquiry into why serial killer Robert Pickton was allowed to go on killing for so long.

Crey, whose sister Dawn vanished after police had compelling evidence pointing at Pickton, said he has no strong personal feelings about Oppal. But he now believes that the former attorney general should step aside and let someone neutral head the inquiry.

“What I want to see is the inquiry and that it be done responsibly,” he said. “This one’s not going to work.”

Attorney General Mike de Jong announced Monday that he had selected his predecessor to lead the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. De Jong cited Oppal’s empathy and breadth of experience.

Oppal, 70, served as a judge at all three court levels in B.C., before entering politics in 2005 and serving as attorney general for four years. He lost a re-election bid in May 2009.