Violence in Vancouverís downtown eastside haunts Polytechnique memorial

By Grant Warkentin

It was a time for pain and a time for healing as dozens of women gathered beside Tyee Plaza Friday afternoon, to remember loved ones who have died as victims of violence.

Grant Warkentin/The Mirror

Emotionally overwhelmed: Debbie Griffiths of Courtenay is comforted during last Fridayís Day of Remembrance memorial on the hill beside Tyee Plaza. The memorial is an annual event intended to speak out against, and raise awareness of, violence against women. Griffiths came to mourn a friend, who she said was one of the missing women from Vancouverís Downtown Eastside

Such was the case with Debbie Griffiths of Courtenay who, between tears, told her story after the memorial ceremony.

"I came here today to say goodbye to my sister," she said, as another women held her shoulders to comfort her. Griffiths said she came to the memorial to pay her respects to Katherine Knight, her "street sister" and one of the missing women from Vancouverís downtown eastside. Griffiths said she and Knight had spent time together on the streets of Victoria and Vancouver and when times had been rough they at least had each other.

"We turned to the streets, and we turned to drugs," Griffiths said. "The system let us fall through the cracks."

Although times were bad, the pair always had hope.

"We made plans, her and I, to come back here," Griffiths said. She said they talked about their children, about life, and about God, among other things.

After several years on the streets Griffiths decided sheíd had enough, and entered rehabilitation. Knight did not.

Griffiths last saw Knight in 1987 in Victoria, and kept in occasional contact with her until she disappeared eight years ago.

She said the ongoing news coverage of Robert William Picton brought back a flood of memories of her life on the street.

Picton, 53, is charged with murdering 15 of 63 women who went missing from Vancouverís Downtown Eastside.

Griffiths said it was a miracle she was able to escape the streets.

"I believe God helped me get away," she said. "Iím a survivor from the East End."

The Pickton case was on everyoneís mind during the gathering, as Lynn Frey spoke at the memorial service. Freyís daughter Marnie was one of the missing women whose remains were found on Picktonís farm. She spoke with passion about her daughter, and against violence.

"The violence must stop," Frey told the assembled crowd.

After the moment of silence, Frey, along with several other women, laid flowers at the temporary memorial in remembrance of her daughter and other loved ones lost as victims of violence.

The annual Day of Remembrance is held every year in cities across Canada to commemorate "The Montreal Massacre," Dec. 6, 1989, when Marc Lepine killed 14 women at Montrealís Ecole Polytechnique.

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Updated: August 21, 2016