Battered Women Support Services
Statement on the Missing Women Investigation
To the: Government of Canada, Province of British Columbia, City of Vancouver, Vancouver Police Department (VPD), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
As regards: The Missing Women Investigation Review (August 2010), as authored by Doug LePard, Deputy Chief Constable, Vancouver Police Department.
The above review documents the inexplicable and indefensible failures of the investigation of the missing and murdered women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), a case that has come to be memorialized as the Missing Women case.
Of critical note: Well prior to the start of the 1997 police investigation, the apprehensive families and friends of the then missing women fought hard and yet to no avail to convince the Vancouver police to investigate stories of missing women in the DTES, the majority of whom were Aboriginal women (which the review never once provides a single word of context on in its 405 pages.) Today, many remain convinced the authorities did not take these reports seriously because the women were sex workers and were therefore considered by the authorities to be beneath concern; in other words, disposable.
In response and in what may be an effort to excuse the early failures of the VPD investigation, the review notes that in 1997, the VPD investigated reports of 71 missing women, most of whom were reported missing by DTES First Nations and community groups. The police quickly found 69 of the women with the review reporting that, while 15 of the 69 women had been murdered (22%), the majority had not been murdered.
According to the review, VPD ‘success’ in finding the women led them to doubt the credibility of the reporting DTES organizations and also to doubt the theory that a serial murderer was at work. Shockingly, the VPD learns that 22% of the women they are trying to find have been murdered, but this hugely significant indicator of the vulnerability of women in the DTES has no impact on their thinking. Rather, the VPD senior ranks callously used the information to ignore what was actually happening in the community and this despite their knowing that in1995, three DTES sex workers were murdered by a serial killer (which the report does acknowledge).
The review paints a stereotypically distorted and self-serving picture of sex workers portraying them solely as women living “unpredictable and risky,” lives while denying them any connection to their families, children or community, essentially making them non-persons. It describes DTES sex workers as women so well acquainted with death and so highly vulnerable to violence, that it was only understandable the police would brush aside their disappearances. While most understand woman who are most vulnerable to violence are those most in need of protection, the VPD review seems to argue against this basic concept.
In the end and in contradiction to these justifications, the review grudgingly acknowledges the “significant misconception prevalent in the VPD as to the transience of “survival” sex trade workers.” Let us remember, this unshakeable misconception meant senior police officials long rejected mounting evidence of a serial killer authorizing only a stop and start and an always severely under-resourced and poorly strategized police investigation.
The most horrifying example of police incompetence is the RCMP’s agonizing failure to act immediately on compelling evidence against the major suspect in the late spring of 1999, allowing almost three years to pass before the arrest of serial killer Robert Pickton. This clear and unforgiveable negligence resulted in the murders of 14 women. Every one of these deaths could have been prevented.
The review tells the Canadian public a story fastened together by arrogance, bigotry, racism, small-minded jurisdictional rivalry and a level of individual and institutional neglect of duty, responsibility and liability we have not seen since the era of the Indian Residential Schools. It is a story anchored by the abandonment and the betrayal of women: women working as sex workers, Aboriginal women, and, ultimately, all women. When the police and those bodies directly accountable for their governance treat their duty to protect some women with contemptuous disregard, all women are endangered.
In closing, we have observed and experienced your pretence and contempt, your betrayals and apologies and your never-ending racism against Aboriginal people. We speak with the full force of our commitment to safety and rights for all women as we say to you; we once again underline your collective responsibility to protect every woman and to work with us to eliminate violence against all women.