Wednesday, February 19

Gone but not forgotten: Documenting Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

There's outrage here at home among those in the midst of documenting the facts and circumstances around so many missing and murdered women and girls in Canada. Today we hear from two women looking for answers, one heartbreaking name at a time.

"The brutality of these murders is what stands out. It's almost as if there's a need to obliterate these women. Picton was not an anomaly."

Documentary maker Audrey Huntley

Last Friday, in a number of Canadian cities, people gathered by the dozens - sometimes the hundreds - to remember Canada's murdered and missing aboriginal women. Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and even Canada's own premiers demand more action on the issue. But a call for an inquiry was dismissed by Ottawa last year.

Estimates of how many women are missing or murdered varies.

But one woman's work has gone a long way in determining a reliable number. Maryanne Pearce completed a doctorate in law at the University of Ottawa. As part of her thesis, she spent seven years making a database of the names of missing and murdered women. Some of the cases date back to the 1950s, but the overwhelming majority are since 1990.

** A word of warning, the content of this conversation is disturbing, and sometimes graphic. **

Monday, February 17

New Metro Vancouver intelligence centre to speed police response times


When a new intelligence centre opens up in May, police forces across the Lower Mainland say they will be able to respond faster to serious crimes like armed robberies and gang violence during the crucial first 48 hours.

Photograph by: Postmedia News, .

METRO VANCOUVER - When a new regional intelligence centre opens in May, police forces across the Lower Mainland say they will be able to respond faster to serious crimes like armed robberies and gang violence during the "most critical" first 48 hours.

The real-time intelligence centre will involve all RCMP detachments and municipal forces in Metro Vancouver, eventually have a budget of $5.8 million, and be staffed 24/7 by 43 officers and staff.

After a serious crime is reported, the centre will help police by "assisting in the identification of suspects at the earliest opportunity," according to a VPD report. Analysts at the centre will monitor other major crimes across Metro Vancouver and let investigators know of any links.

The dearth of such shared intelligence was identified by Missing Women Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal as a key reason that serial killer Robert Pickton was able to operate for years across different cities.

The new initiative builds on the recent success of other integrated gang and homicide units in the region, according to Irwin Cohen, the senior RCMP research chair at the University of the Fraser Valley.

"Anything police organizations do to break down information silos" is positive, Cohen said.

The centre will work to better identify prolific offenders, problems and properties that aren't necessarily confined to one city, Cohen said.

"Many of these problems are provincial problems," Cohen said. "Offenders move around — they live in one jurisdiction (but) they commit crimes in other jurisdictions."

The centre will initially cover only Metro Vancouver, but by next January will start expanding to include Victoria before going provincewide by 2017, according to the VPD report.

The new centre will replace the Provincial Intelligence Centre, which only operates 14 hours a day, focuses on violent gangs and "does not have the capacity to offer real-time operational support to frontline officers," states the report.

Funding for the new centre will be split three ways, with the participating municipalities paying for half of the operating costs, the provincial RCMP paying for 30 per cent, and the national RCMP force picking up the rest.

Each city will pay its share based on a formula that "combined a five-year average of criminal code offences and population of the city," the VPD report stated.

Vancouver will be on the hook for about $700,000 (12 per cent) of the total budget, which the report said it will offset by providing staff for the centre.

Twitter: @MikePHager

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Friday, February 14

Missing women’s families still looking for answers at 23rd annual memorial march | Georgia Straight, Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly

Missing women’s families still looking for answers at 23rd annual memorial march | Georgia Straight, Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly:

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B.C. to give police more powers to find missing people

Law would let police seize records of a missing person, even if there is no sign a crime was committed


B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton wants to give police more powers to seize a missing person's records.

Photograph by: PNG, PNG 00057407A

The province wants to give police more power to collect information in missing-persons cases.

A bill introduced to the legislature Thursday would allow police to get a court order forcing someone to hand over a missing person’s records, such as health records or a hotel registration.

It would also allow police to seek a court order to enter a private home or other location where they believe a minor, vulnerable person or person at risk is. It would let police force the hand over of the records of a person last seen with, or believed to be in the company of, a missing minor, vulnerable person or person at risk.

And in some emergencies, police would be able to go ahead without waiting for a court order.

“Vancouver police gets between 3,000 and 4,000 missing persons reports every year,” said Vancouver police spokesman Const. Brian Montague. “This has the potential to help in some cases.”

The BC Civil Liberties Association believes the new law is flawed and said information collected to help find a missing persons could later be used in criminal proceedings.

“Very few people would disagree with the principle of making information available in a missing person’s inquiry,” said policy director Micheal Vonn. “What will happen with that information once it’s acquired? We have some concerns, even at this preliminary stage, that the legislation allows data that is collected to be used in criminal proceedings.

“One of the things we would of course suggest is that there be an absolute prohibition on using any of the information that is sought for the purposes of finding missing persons to then (be used to) prosecute them. There should be an absolute prohibition on that and there is not.”

The Justice Ministry says the proposed law is consistent with recommendations of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which said the province should “grant speedy access to personal information of missing persons without unduly infringing on privacy rights.”

Montague said the VPD tries to strike a balance between an individual’s privacy and conducting an investigation.

“But in some missing person’s cases, time is of the essence. The quicker and easier we get information, the (greater) potential to save someone’s life. … We don’t want somebody’s privacy hampering our ability to find someone.”

The proposed law deals with two types of people: those that haven’t been seen or in touch with people normally involved in their lives, and vulnerable or at-risk persons whose safety and welfare are of concern because of their age, physical or mental capabilities, or the circumstances of their absence.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the bill strikes a good balance between access to key information and privacy rights.

“This legislation acknowledges that access to relevant records can sometimes mean the difference between life and death,” said Anton. “It also strikes a critical balance between disclosing and protecting information, with the safety and welfare of vulnerable people as its paramount goal.”

She told reporters that police need these tools.

“When someone is missing, you don’t know that it’s a criminal offence. You don’t know that the person might have just gone away. There may be all kinds of reasons why they’re unaccounted for, so you can’t assume it’s criminal at that point. What this does is give the police civil remedies to go and search records, to make inquiries and to search for somebody.”

She said if police have evidence of a criminal offence such as kidnapping or assault, they already have a lot of power to get phone records, financial and job particulars, and other restricted information about a missing person who may be at risk.

She said the types of records sought by police could include welfare and health records. “You might go into a hotel and see if a person was staying there or not.”

The act would also authorize police to directly demand access to records in an emergency situation such as a risk of serious harm to a missing person or a concern that records could be destroyed.

Follow me: @BMortonVanSun

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

My Book Of Life By Angel Martine Leavitt Book Review

My Book Of Life By Angel Martine Leavitt Book Review:

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Some contemporary books let you drift into complacence before hammering you with the theme and message, if there is one. Others take you right by the throat in a chokehold from the very beginning, not letting go until you turn the very last acknowledgements page. My Book Of Life By Angel by Martine Leavitt is one of the later, a gritty chokehold sort of book set among the urban grime of an unnamed city. My Book Of Life By Angel does a bang up job raising awareness of the plight and the exploitation of teenage sex workers.

February 14 -- Why I march |

February 14 -- Why I march |

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Thursday, February 13

For B.C.’s Judy Peterson, victim DNA database triggers bittersweet emotions

Mother of teen who disappeared in 1993 spent 20 years lobbying for the databank to link missing people with unidentified crime scene DNA


Judy Peterson, holds a picture of daughter, Lindsey Nicholls, in Victoria, Feb. 12, 2014. Lindsey Nicholls disappeared near Courtenay in 1993. On Wednesday, the federal government committed to creating the national victims’ DNA databank that Peterson has been lobbying for


OTTAWA — Bittersweet emotions struck Judy Peterson as she sat in the House of Commons visitors’ gallery while Finance Minister Jim Flaherty credited her for the government’s decision to finally create a national missing persons DNA databank.

The Vancouver Island woman has fought unsuccessfully for more than two decades to find out what happened to her teenage daughter Lindsey Nicholls, who disappeared in 1993.

“It was surreal, like I was in a movie,” Peterson said.

The federal decision comes after years of frustrating negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces over who would pay for the database.

The move could also set up a clash with the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner, which has expressed concern about the type of database described in Tuesday’s budget.

Peterson said, during a brief interview that included both laughter and tears, that it was “cool” that Flaherty specifically mentioned her long-missing daughter Lindsey during Tuesday’s budget speech.

Peterson, a guest of the government, was wearing a necklace adorned with an inspirational message of hope given to her this week by her youngest daughter Kim, an ally in the campaign to find Lindsey and give police better tools to find other missing Canadians.

“I wore it yesterday so Kim could be with me,” Peterson said Wednesday while on her way home to Sidney.

It’s been a long and frustrating struggle for Peterson, who began lobbying for a missing persons databank shortly after the federal government, in 2000, launched the RCMP’s national system to use DNA to solve crimes. It has a databank of the DNA of serious offenders and another with DNA collected at crime scenes.

The databank is described effusively by the RCMP as a “shining example” of how “revolutionary” technology can help make huge strides in bringing criminals to justice and exonerating the innocent.

It has 284,661 DNA profiles of convicted offenders, and 92,397 profiles from crime scenes, according to the RCMP. The databank has helped police in about 30,000 investigations, including more than 2,000 for murder and more than 3,600 for sexual assault.

But when Peterson learned of the databank and sent a sample of Lindsey’s DNA to Ottawa to see if there was any trace of her among crime scene DNA, she discovered that such a search wasn’t possible.

It was one of many agonizing setbacks since the summer day in 1993 when Lindsey vanished after going for a walk to see some friends near Courtenay.

There had been family tension in the period before her disappearance, after Peterson’s then husband, RCMP officer Martin Nicholls, was moved by the Mounties from Delta to Comox.

Lindsey wanted to stay and moved in with friends in Delta, later moving to the island to live in a foster home in Comox.

Tensions had been easing shortly before the disappearance, according to Peterson. In their last telephone call, “I told her I loved her and I missed her, and then I never saw her again,” Peterson told Chatelaine magazine in 2008.

In that same interview she explained to the magazine the rationale for her relentless campaign.

“If Lindsey is still out there, she’ll know how hard I tried.”

The 1998 legislation that set up the RCMP DNA databank excluded the missing persons component over concern it would infringe on the privacy rights of people who go “missing” on purpose, such as a spouse fleeing an abusive relationship.

Peterson’s campaign won the endorsement of Vancouver Island MP Gary Lunn, who would enter the federal cabinet after Stephen Harper won a minority government in 2006. The idea has also been endorsed by Senate and House of Commons committees, and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

But the idea languished, mostly because the Harper government wanted provinces to share the cost, according to the 2009-10 annual report of the National DNA Data Bank Advisory Committee.

Momentum shifted last summer, 20 years after Lindsey’s disappearance, when Vancouver Island Conservative MP John Duncan attended a picnic organized by Peterson to mark the anniversary.

Duncan, a cabinet minister and government whip, helped Peterson get a meeting in November with Justice Minister Peter MacKay, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, and Kevin Sorenson, minister of state for finance.

That lobbying led directly to Flaherty’s decision Tuesday to commit $8.1 million for five years, starting in 2016-17 when the government is expecting a healthy fiscal surplus, and a further $1.3 million annually thereafter, to create a missing persons index.

“Changing legislation costs money and takes time. We just needed the political will,” Peterson said diplomatically.

She doesn’t anticipate that the index will likely lead to any sort of closure in her nightmarish struggle.

“I don’t want anyone to think that the minute this is turned on I’m going to find her,” she said.

She said the B.C. Coroners Service already has its own sophisticated DNA bank that can be used to help trace missing people.

But with a national databank “I don’t have to worry about whether she might be in Alberta or Saskatchewan or Ontario,” she said.

“My goal is to know 100 per cent that if she is found, that I would know. I don’t have that comfort right now. I just know she’s not in British Columbia.”

Peterson said one of her objectives is to not only help people find missing family and friends, but also help police connect known killers to unsolved crimes by providing the RCMP with the DNA of missing people to compare against crime scene samples.

“My contention is that Lindsey’s DNA could be in the crime scene index,” perhaps involving a serial murder. “We can identify these people and put them in jail longer and keep them off the street.”

A statement Wednesday from Chantal Bernier, interim federal privacy commissioner, said that the commission has in the past “strongly” recommended against an index that cross-matches DNA with the RCMP’s existing crime scene and convicted offender databases.

Spokeswoman Valerie Lawton said the commission doesn’t object to a missing persons database as long as there are strong privacy safeguards and that cross-matching is not allowed.

“Large numbers of people go missing and in many cases this is voluntary with no crime involved,” Lawton said.

“Given the sensitivity of DNA and its potential to reveal sensitive information about individuals and their relatives, effective external oversight would be essential.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun