Police warning about pig farm meat unleashes storm of emotion

Canadian Press

Thursday, March 11, 2004

VANCOUVER (CP) - Priests and crisis workers in the Downtown Eastside plunged into a storm of emotions after police confirmed old rumours that an accused serial killer may have served sex-trade workers meat contaminated with their friends' DNA.

A forensic investigator rakes through a pile of sifted dirt looking for evidence as the investigation continues at the Port Coquitlam pig farm owned by accused serial killer Robert Pickton in this 2003 file photo. (CP Archive/Richard Lam)

The streets of the gritty neighbourhood were charged with the news Thursday as people filed into drop-in centres for hot meals.

"It's going to have such an impact on people, the outrage, the anger, the disgust," said Carol Martin, a worker at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre.

She was bracing for a grim day and the impossible job of consoling women enticed to Robert William Pickton's pig farm for food. Short-staffed, she could barely keep up with the lineup at her door.

The accused murderer would often pick up prostitutes from the area and convince them to stay at the farm. Guests have said he was generous, cooking for them, handing out drugs, hosting wild never-ending parties.

After years of police investigations that victims' families say were half-hearted, police have charged Pickton, 54, with 15 counts of first-degree murder. He faces another seven charges.

It took another two years for health officials to announce Wednesday they believe some meat from the farm that could possibly be contaminated with human DNA was given to Pickton's friends and associates.

On the street Thursday, people were disgusted. Even in heroin-induced hazes, prostitutes were shaken and furious that stories from the pig farm again had them scared to the bone.

"Those are my friends (being) served up," hissed a woman who would only identify herself as Jen, edging away from her pimp outside a rooming house.

It was a thought so disturbing that many in the city slum have tried to press it from their minds, but the official word has now made it impossible to avoid.

"The rumours have been in this community for a very long time," said Ruth Wright, executive director of the First United Church, which counsels people in the Downtown Eastside.

"Women have been quite convinced that other people have been fed from the bodies of their friends."

It isn't clear how many people might have received meat, but friends of Pickton's said earlier they'd received gifts.

People started calling police with information about the meat Thursday, and RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford said each tip was being followed up.

She wouldn't say what led police, who knew early-on Pickton had been giving people meat from the farm, to put out a warning Wednesday.

"As investigators we have to deal with evidence and factual information. Once we received that information we realized we had to go public," she said.

One woman said last year that Pickton often brought her parents a freshly-slaughtered pig which she took to an eastside supermarket to be cut and packaged.

As the news spread through the community, volunteers at Wish, a drop in program for sex-trade workers, were calling contacts at other programs for extra support.

"This is going to be really hard to for people to take because it's so graphic," said Kate Gibson.

"It's awful for the women who ever went to the farm and women on the street. It's their friends and it's another reminder about the predators out there and the danger they live in."

She said program workers are discussing tactics to deal with the range of emotions she knows they will be hit with when the centre opens for dinner Thursday night.

"A lot of people are really upset, angry. There will be crying, sadness, everything," Gibson said.

"They will deal with it the way they deal with everything else in their lives. Some will want to be together in groups, others self-medicate. They will do their best to carry on through this as they have through the whole investigation.

"But this is beyond belief and it just puts it right back in their face again."

Wright said the fact that it took investigators this long to come out with the warning is a slap in the face to an already degraded group.

"For women not valued by society it somehow seems like a greater level of not being valued," she said.

Members of her congregation who have been to the farm and eaten there will need a lot of care in the coming days, Wright said.

"The only thing I know how to do is to listen and respect. People have to find their peace and it takes time."

"You can't be dismissive. You also don't want to be overly emotional yourself. They're very real fears, very real experiences."

There are still so many unanswered questions that just grate on old wounds of people involved. Wright said people are wondering what police discovered to prompt them to issue the contamination warning now.

"We're still being told that it's something being talked about, we're not being told it's something for which they have concrete evidence.

"If they're going to make the release at that level they could have done it a long time ago."

Some outside were too busy trying to survive to care. They line the seedy streets selling junk.

"Brand new hair dryer," said one, wearing a tiny crop top and no coat but so high on crack she couldn't feel the cold.

The investigation into whether meat from the Pickton pig farm was contaminated began last Friday. Health workers said they can't rule out the possibility that it was tainted with human DNA.

The provincial health officer has asked anyone who may still have frozen pork products from Pickton's farm to return them to police.

Pickton apparently had a habit of slaughtering pigs, wrapping up the meat and distributing it to associates and friends. The unlicensed slaughter facility was very unsanitary, he said.

 The Canadian Press 2004



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