VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Impending missing women trial much more than a Lower Mainland case
The News and Weekender
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
By Angie Poss
Leigh Miner is smiling as she stares out of a poster showing Vancouverís missing women.
NANOOSE BAY RESIDENT Erin McGrath has had to deal with the emptiness of not knowing the whereabouts of her sister, Leigh Miner (inset) for almost nine years.
The smile is out of place among the police mugshots and blank stares of other missing women, but it reflects the woman inside the drug addict, a glowing woman with shiny brown hair and bright cheeks smiling from the front seat of a car.
A woman her sister, Erin McGrath, believes is dead and she wants answers.
Miner is one of 68 missing women who disappeared within a 10-block strip of pavement in Vancouverís downtown East Side. Fifteen women are confirmed dead and now-notorious Port Coquitlam pig farmer Robert (Willy) Pickton has been charged with their murders.
However, so far Minerís DNA hasnít been identified from samples found at Picktonís farm. When the farm first came to light, McGrath remembers feeling hopeful that she would have her answer. Now she knows it may take years. Officers working on the case have told her that even if they stopped collecting DNA evidence today, they estimate it will take two years to process all the samples in labs across Canada.
"Now that thereís answers for some, I want my answer," says McGrath in an interview from her Nanoose Bay home. "Itís kind of an envy thing ... you want resolution."
McGrath and her family have waited close to nine years for resolution.
Curled up on the couch, watching brown leaves spiral to earth in the front yard, McGrath recalls the 1993 day when Miner didnít come home.
"It was Christmas ó thatís when we knew she was missing. She didnít come and there were all these unopened presents and I remember being angry at her for being late."
With the death of McGrathís other sister in a car accident the same year, the family was overwhelmed with grief. They relied on the police to track down Miner, believing an investigation was ongoing.
"We went on the belief that the police were doing an investigation, because thatís what police do when you file a report," she says.
In eight years they didnít receive one phone call from the Vancouver Police.
In the spring of 2001, one of McGrathís repeated calls to the department rang on the desk of a detective.
"He told me they didnít have her file. My sisterís file was lost within the missing persons department. If they canít find a file how can they find a woman?" says McGrath. "That was when I started getting active."
Police were reluctant to add Minerís name to the list of missing women until November of 2001.
"She was lost up until then," says McGrath. "I think she would have stayed lost if I hadnít spoken up."
She believes the Vancouver Police Department allowed a serial killer to continue by ignoring the string of missing womenís reports that came in.
"They werenít set up to deal with it. They didnít want to deal with it. So they let these women go into the hands of a serial killer," McGrath says.
"I thought that if I could be polite to them theyíd do a job. They didnít do a job for anyone. It didnít matter if you were polite or if you yelled and screamed. They didnít care because my sister disappeared from the downtown East Side."
As Pickton prepares for the preliminary hearing and the province and the Supreme Court debate who will pay for his defence, McGrath has decided she wonít attend the court proceedings, using her energy instead to speak at schools about her familyís experience and raise money for treatment facilities.
McGrath suspects there are more missing and murdered women than the police will ever know about, women who had so completely lost contact with friends, family and the other women working the downtown eastside that there was simply no one to report them missing.
Then there are others who were reported missing but police werenít able to find photographs, even childhood ones of them.
"As a mother, to think that they werenít important enough when they were little girls for someone to take their photo ... I feel very protective towards these women ó I want people to know that they were someoneís little girls."
More than punishment for the man she suspects killed her sister, McGrath wants the public to understand that her sister, the other missing women and the women currently working and living in the downtown eastside have value.
"Thereís no difference between them and my little girls," she says. "These women end up there ó they donít start there. There are no families on the downtown East Side."
Finally having police take her seriously and being closer to justice have made moving on marginally easier for McGrath, though she acknowledges there are still miles to go. She has a hole in her life. Itís healed over some, the edges arenít ragged anymore but she is waiting for the day when it is covered by the daily activities of life - and answers.
"I hate the word closure," she says. "Closure doesnít fit for us. It never goes away, you learn to heal and live with it."
© Copyright 2002 Parksville Qualicum News
Updated: January 01, 2007