Wednesday, September 25



Occasionally, the stamp world will be illuminated by a striking image bursting from some designer's active imagination that catches the eye and holds your attention.

This pre-stamped envelope from Romania did it for me when this dazzling crying sun and smiling blue moon leaped off the page at me.

It was issued to mark the total eclipse of the sun over Romania on Aug. 11, 1999.

Hang on, I thought, I've seen something exactly like that before. I was having an episode of "deja vu."

And then I remembered.

It was in 1999, too. I had travelled out to Vancouver to write a feature about 31 missing women, all street workers engaged in the oldest profession in the world, all of whom had disappeared off the face of the earth without so much as a trace.

Pretty well everyone I met, other working women on the street, their friends, women's shelter workers, all reckon the missing women have been murdered.

About the only people who don't believe a "serial killer" is stalking the strolls in Vancouver's East Hastings district are the police.

But there's a deeply felt conviction among everyone else that someone's murdered the women. And there's a deeply held fear among many out there that the missing women were taken out onto ships in the harbour and when the ships left port, the women went with them.

I wrote a feature about this opinion that "sex slave death ships" were a factor behind these disappearances.

And it was while I was researching this feature, I came across this crying sun image for the first time.

One man who knows more about the missing women than anyone outside the police force is Wayne Leng, who has the closest possible personal ties to the tragedy unfolding out there, since one of his personal friends, Sarah, is among the missing.

One night Sarah was working a busy street corner in the very heart of this dangerous district, left and never returned. Ever.

Wayne's personal attempts to find his friend turned into a crusade, which flourished into a large-scale campaign aimed at finding Sarah, but also finding all the women so their friends and families could have some answers and if necessary, some closure.

At that time, most of Wayne's home had been turned into a campaign office with posters and flyers and photographs of missing women.

But in one special folder, Wayne showed me many of his personal memories of Sarah, including a large portfolio of all her drawings and paintings, sketches and doodlings, an insight into her mind.

She had lived a troubled life, often sad, always struggling.

And there, among her artworks, was this expressive painting (see picture above right).

Her crying sun was a theme depicted in many of her pictures -- in colour, in black-and-white, as a background to other images, and sometimes up front and centre.

Sarah, sadly, has gone and although she's only officially listed as "missing" no one, not even Wayne, expects to ever see her again.

But her poignant images will live forever in her art.

And every now and then, from unknown surprising directions, as with this striking item from Romania, she'll be remembered through her art.

As I always say, there's a surprise around every corner in the world of stamps.

Bobby Jack Fowler Highway of Tears investigation stalled - British Columbia - CBC News

Bobby Jack Fowler Highway of Tears investigation stalled - British Columbia - CBC News:

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, September 18

Missing woman’s charges stayed - Terrace Standard

Missing woman’s charges stayed - Terrace Standard:

'via Blog this'

Woman found dead in farmer’s field had been missing since Sept. 3


A photo of homicide victim Amy Paul taken from a Facebook page set up to help locate her when she disappeared in the first week of September.

OTTAWA — The woman police found dead in an Osgoode hay field was “too young to die,” her cousin said Wednesday.

Amy Paul, 27, was found Tuesday morning by a farmer while on his tractor in southeast Ottawa, setting off an investigation into the city’s eighth homicide of the year.

Paul’s family reported her missing on Sept. 9, six days after they’d last heard from her.

Police said Paul was listed in their system as having no fixed address. Family members posted in a Facebook group dedicated to finding her that the young mother of one daughter was known to frequent areas in Vanier, Lowertown and Overbrook. A police source told the Citizen on Wednesday that Paul was known to be a sex-trade worker.

“She was a great person,” cousin Melissa Leblanc told the Citizen just minutes after police publicly confirmed Paul’s identity. The family had been notified hours before. Paul will be missed by her daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, nieces and nephews, Leblanc said.

Adding to the family’s new-found grief, police did not issue a media alert when Paul was initially reported missing. While such alerts are often issued, Ottawa police spokesman Const. Marc Soucy said Wednesday they are not issued as a rule. It’s up to the investigator to determine whether a news release will be helpful.

Police generally issue releases when they suspect foul play, if a child is involved, or they have reason to believe someone is in immediate danger. In this case, Soucy said, investigators had many “active leads” on Paul’s whereabouts, and opted not to notify the public. Soucy said the decision had nothing to do with a perceived high-risk lifestyle that accompanies sex work, but Paul was known to police and investigators believed their leads were solid.

Without an Ottawa police call for the public’s help, Paul’s family and friends were left to spread the plea themselves. They established two Facebook pages, set up an email account specifically for tips, and listed their own telephone numbers as well as the Ottawa police phone number on a poster they circulated on social media and posted around Vanier. The poster included a photo of the red-haired woman, who was 5-4 and weighed about 90 pounds.

“All we want is for her to be safe ... so if you know where she is tell her to call someone in the family,” said the page posted in the days following her disappearance.

A Facebook group set up during the search was filled with condolence messages Wednesday, from some who knew Paul and from others who were saddened to hear of another woman’s life ended in an apparent homicide. People in the affected community of Osgoode, wondering Tuesday who the woman tragically found in the hayfield was, grieved alongside friends and family.

Ryan Sullivan, a former high school classmate, wrote that he “will always remember (Paul’s) beautiful face and smile.”

A smile, he said, that “would always brighten the darkest of days.”

Paul, “a great soul,” would help others when they were down, he added.

The investigation into Paul’s death began Tuesday when police received a 911 call around 9:13 a.m. notifying them of the gruesome discovery in a southeast Ottawa hayfield on Cabin Road, between Nixon Drive and River Road.

Paul’s body appeared to have signs of injury to the head and judging by the level of decomposition she might have been in the field for more than a week, according to sources. At that point, she had been missing for two weeks. Police were not sure whether other signs of trauma were the result of severe decomposition or of the body having been partially burned. Police ran fingerprints Tuesday night, hoping for a match to identify the victim before an autopsy scheduled for Wednesday.

That autopsy has been completed but police have not released a cause of death.

The Ottawa police major crime unit continues to investigate.

There are no suspects.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, September 4

‘Not acceptable to turn a blind eye’ to sex workers using PEERS drop-in centre, MLA says

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  • Executive director Marion Little says donations are already coming in to help reopen PEERS's drop-in centre.  Photograph by: BRUCE STOTESBURY, Times Colonist

Politicians, police and frontline workers are questioning the abrupt closing of a drop-in centre and pre-employment program for sex workers in Victoria.

Crippling funding cuts forced the non-profit society PEERS to close its centre and cut its Elements pre-employment program. The organization’s day and night outreach programs will continue.

“I’m quite surprised, given the issue of violence against women was at the forefront of discussions with the government in recent months,” said Maurine Karagianis, MLA for Esquimalt-Royal Roads.

“The government assured us they were going to follow through on the recommendations of Wally Oppal on things just like this. … Instead, they seem paralyzed to make any progress.”

In his 2012 Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, Oppal urged the B.C. government to commit to provide funding to existing centres that offer emergency services to women engaged in the sex trade so the centres could stay open 24 hours a day.

“It’s not acceptable to turn a blind eye to these women in the sex trade who are most vulnerable to violence,” Karagianis said.

PEERS serves 515 clients a year, about 80 per cent of whom are women, said executive director Marion Little.

As a stop-gap measure while the drop-in centre is closed, AIDS Vancouver Island has opened its café at the Access Health Centre at 713 Johnson St. to PEERS staff and clients to meet on Wednesday afternoons.

Little said donations have started coming in to help revive the centre. If sufficient money is raised, the centre could reopen for even one day a week, she said.

Karagianis said she and Michelle Mungall, the NDP opposition critic for the Ministry of Social Development, will raise the issue of the PEERS program’s closing with the government, and will reach out to the PEERS board to offer help.

PEERS has struggled since its core funding was shifted from federal to provincial jurisdiction six years ago. Its undoing came when funding moved to a subcontract through the Employment Program of B.C., and it was forced to fit its services to meet a fee-for-service billing model. This required that PEERS provide detailed personal information for its services, even though the society worked to support sex workers unconditionally and protect their confidentiality.

In a statement Tuesday, Social Development Minister Don McRae said sex workers would still have access to employment programs. “PEERS was a sub-contractor of the contracted service providers in Victoria, who have confirmed that there will be no disruption to services as a result of PEERS withdrawing its employment-related programs,” McRae said. He did not explain how such services would be provided.

Victoria police are concerned its officers might feel the effects of PEERS’s reductions in service, “as the [sex] workers may not be as well-informed, cared for and supported, potentially leaving them more susceptible to exploitation and abuse,” said Det. Sgt. Todd Wellman, supervisor of the Special Victims Unit.

He said PEERS acts as a conduit between sex trade workers and police, building a sense of trust. “With them, we’ve helped build a safe place for sex trade workers to report crimes.”

In a recent example, police knew that a sex trade worker, who was the victim of an aggravated assault, was hesitant to report it. PEERS encouraged the woman to come forward.

“PEERS supported the worker through the process and we actually conducted our interview at PEERS, whereas we would likely not have obtained a statement from the victim [otherwise] as she was not comfortable attending the police station,” Wellman said.

Kristen Kvakic, director of programs at AIDS Vancouver Island, said the organization has worked closely with PEERS over the years and can’t see how its services will be replaced.

“PEERS provides a specialized, niche service. I’m not sure anyone can pick up that work,” she said.

“When people say this program changed my life or saved my life, and then it’s gone, it’s heart-breaking.”

© Copyright 2013

Safe haven for sex workers forced to close as outreach society PEERS sees funding cut

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  • PEERS executive director Marion Little: "We've tried to contort and juggle things as much as we could, but it's impossible."  Photograph by: BRUCE STOTESBURY, Times Colonist

A drop-in centre that provided a safe, non-judgmental place for Victoria sex workers for almost two decades has closed. PEERS, the non-profit society that ran the centre, has also cut its Elements pre-employment program.

These are the latest casualties in a series of cuts due to a complicated restructuring of funding that began about six years ago with a shift from federal to provincial jurisdiction, said PEERS executive director Marion Little.

“We’ve tried to contort and juggle things as much as we could, but it’s impossible,” Little said. “Ever since that transfer we’ve had significant cutbacks and layoffs.”

The organization’s operational budget of $32,000 a month has been cut in half, three full-time staff positions are gone, and Little’s hours have been reduced to 15 hours a week from 25. The drop-in centre on Fairview Road in Esquimalt closed Aug. 16, and programs set to start in the fall have been cancelled.

PEERS serves about 515 clients a year, which Little estimates is a fraction of the sex workers in the region.

Losing the drop-in centre will be devastating for sex workers, said Tracie Faulkes, who has been helped by PEERS. “This place saves lives.”

People in the sex trade could go to the centre for everything from a hot lunch to shelter to information on rehabilitative programs. The office also maintained a “bad date sheet,” where sex workers could report and peruse information about violent clients.

“This place was like a warm blanket where you could finally be safe and get help,” Faulkes said.

Faulkes, 49, was a sex worker in her early 20s in northern B.C. Finally motivated by the trauma of her sister’s murder, she sought help 17 years after leaving the sex trade. She enrolled in the Elements program and went from waiting tables to social work at AIDS Vancouver Island and PEERS.

In 2012, PEERS’ core funding contract with the B.C. Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation shifted to the Employment Program of B.C. fee-for-service billing model — which proved its undoing. Little said PEERS struggled to fit its programs into the employment service model, but it didn’t work.

The problem, she said, is the new model treats PEERS like a conventional employment agency, without acknowledging the clientele’s specialized needs and a mandate to support sex workers unconditionally and protect their confidentiality.

The fee-for-service model requires detailed personal information for every service provided, which runs the risk of being shared with other agencies. While PEERS managed to bill for many clients, it also served others who were uncomfortable with the new requirements.

“The problem is registration happens through PEERS, which basically outs a person as a sex worker,” Little said. The model also requires a lot more administration. “What this program asks us to do is hustle our clients to get money out of the government.”

The day and night outreach programs at PEERS will continue because they are funded separately by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, B.C. Gaming Commission, United Way and private donors.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said the cutbacks at PEERS are “truly unfortunate,” and that the drop-in centre and services are crucial to making outreach programs work. “Who’s going to do that work now?” he asked, noting the police and several organizations work closely with PEERS.

Former PEERS executive director Jody Paterson lamented the loss of the drop-in centre and programs for those in the sex trade. “It was a place where they knew they could completely relax about being past and present sex workers and that they wouldn’t be judged because everybody there got it,” she said. “Outreach is great, but unless there’s a drop-in space to go with it, it can be much harder to find for someone in the moment that they need it.”

© Copyright 2013