VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
What’s missing here is justice
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Someone's young daughter goes missing and it's front-page news. Someone's 20-something daughter goes missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and it doesn't rate even a small item in a single mainstream or daily newspaper in the Lower Mainland.
Danielle Larue, 25, has been missing since December 2002. She is described as a native Indian with a light complexion, 170 centimetres (five feet, seven inches) tall and weighing 57 kilograms (125 pounds).
It doesn't rate even though more than 60 women have disappeared from there over the past two decades. It doesn't rate even though Robert (Willy) Pickton will be back in court on June 30 when the preliminary hearing resumes into the charges that he murdered 16 of those woman.
Why doesn't anybody seem to care that 25-year-old Danielle Larue has been missing since December?
And why is it that police waited more than four months after first hearing that she'd disappeared before asking the public for help finding her?
Since January, Larue's friends and family have waited for news. Yet, it was only on May 12 that Constable Sarah Bloor told reporters at the daily police briefing that Larue was missing and that it would be "of considerable value to the investigators and of great comfort to Danielle's family" if the person who reported her missing would contact them again.
Bloor said police were issuing an alert. An alert? That would suggest an urgency that belies the four months that have passed. It would be laughable if the situation were not so grim.
Just as it is absurd that suddenly in May investigators are "concerned" and were just announcing that they are "investigating it [the disappearance] as a suspicious circumstance."
Larue was described as a native Indian female with a light complexion, 170 centimetres [five feet, seven inches] tall, 57 kilograms [125 pounds], long black hair, brown eyes and several tattoos, including a "black heart and cross" on her right forearm and a "heart" on her chest.
Now that police have decided this is urgent, a special phone line has been set up to call if you have information about her. The number is 604-717-3420.
How is it that police didn't treat this more seriously when every day there are 103 forensic anthropologists and 36 police officers still combing through the piles of dirt and dung at Pickton's pig farm in Port Coquitlam nearly a year after the work there began? But then, how is it that it took the deaths of more than 60 women before the police began to believe that there was a big problem and that there may be a serial killer loose?
Perhaps Danielle Larue is still alive. We can only pray that she is.
Larue, after all, is only 25 years old. She should have a whole lifetime ahead of her. But the scant description of Larue's life sounds all too similar to those descriptions of the other women who disappeared and never returned. It's likely Larue was on drugs, the police say. It's likely she was involved in the sex trade. But are those reasons to ignore her disappearance, exacerbating her family's pain?
In February, members of Parliament unanimously agreed that the justice committee should look at reforming prostitution laws. There's general agreement that the laws must be changed because they currently make prostitution even riskier than it might otherwise be. Among the considerations will likely be to legalize brothels, which are currently outlawed as "common bawdy houses."
Among those pushing for that change is Jamie Lee Hamilton, who was arrested nearly three years ago for running a common bawdy house. Hamilton has been fighting a legal battle to win the right to operate a safe house for streetworkers. Her case was supposed to be heard this spring, but last month the charges were quietly stayed.
Hamilton believes women wouldn't be disappearing off downtown streets if they weren't forced to stand on street corners and turn tricks in cars. She draws a parallel between safe injection sites for habitual drug users, arguing that if drug users are soon to have a safe place, so should women and men who work the streets.
But others, like Suzanne Jay of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, oppose any fiddling with the prostitution laws that doesn't start with the premise that prostitution is something desperate women turn to, not a job they choose.
Since the MPs all agreed that something needs to be done, nothing much has happened.
They haven't decided what the terms of reference should be. They haven't decided whether the justice committee should hold public hearings across the country. And despite their overwhelming concern and their speeches about the tragedy of what is happening in downtown Vancouver, the MPs have done nothing that would make the streets safer for women like Danielle Larue.
And while it might seem easy in our comfortable homes to dismiss all this as not directly touching our lives, it does.
But it's not just about fear that we could be next.
This is about what kind of community we want to live in. No one can possibly say they want to live in a city where predators appear to be snatching women off the street.
Nobody can possibly want to live in a city where a woman goes missing, but it takes four months before police put out an urgent call for public help.
Nobody should want to live here if we can't figure out how to fix our community so that this can't happen. And all of us must do what we can to make sure that no more women go missing like Danielle Larue.
© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun
Updated: January 01, 2007