Remembering the missing

Supporters pay tribute to alleged victims outside court where Pickton faces trial


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. -- Sandra Gagnon has never been quiet about letting people know about her sister Janet Henry, one of the women Robert (Willy) Pickton is accused of killing.

But for one moment outside the New Westminster courthouse where voir dire proceedings in Mr. Pickton's trial began yesterday, Ms. Gagnon was stunned silent.

"I'm really happy to have the support here. I didn't know there would be so many," she said, as drums beat a steady call in the background. "It means a lot to me. It's a good feeling that there are people out here thinking of us."

In British Columbia Supreme Court yesterday, Mr. Pickton, 56, responded "Not guilty" or "Not guilty, Your Honour" to the charges. He did not enter a plea to Count 22, which named a woman known only as Jane Doe as one of the alleged murder victims.

On that charge, the court registered a not-guilty plea on his behalf. One of his lawyers said the defence would argue that the charge is flawed.

For 15 years, people have marched in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Feb. 14 to remember sisters, friends, mothers and daughters lost through addiction, abuse and homicide.

Hundreds of those women and men yesterday were at Begbie Square at the New Westminster courthouse to show their support to the families of Mr. Pickton's alleged victims.

Marlene Trick, a program co-ordinator at the Carnegie Community Centre at Hastings and Main Streets, said there will always be victims of addiction and abuse, but if more financial support is given for counselling and other addiction services programs, those numbers can fall.

The Feb. 14 marches started after the death of a Coast Salish woman in 1991, and the people who lived in the Downtown Eastside community wanted to show that she wasn't forgotten.

"As long as there is murder against women, we will continue to do this. We are not holding demonstrations or rallies or protests. We are here to remember the women," Ms. Trick said.

She said the recent slayings of sex-trade workers in Edmonton are extremely troubling.

"We have to put the resources in now so monsters running around in that community can be brought to justice."

Ms. Trick said police must continue to investigate the cases of the missing women.

The simple acts of remembering the women lost have become important symbols to residents in the Downtown Eastside.

Diane Wood, who helped co-ordinate a quilt tribute to the missing women, said people are far from healed, but some recognition has helped that process.

"There are over 90 names in these quilts and people have written down the names of their nieces, their cousins and sisters and friends," said Ms. Wood, who knew many of the women who disappeared.

"Some of the panels have more than one name because way more than 63 women have gone missing."

The only power that many women have is to speak out, Allison Ducharme said. She held up one of the 63 quilts done up by families and friends of the women who have gone missing from the Downtown Eastside over the past two decades.

"It's important as an urban, aboriginal woman to provide silent support to the families and loved ones of not only the women Pickton is on trial for, but for all the missing women," Ms. Ducharme said.

As the mother of a daughter, Ms. Ducharme said she is relieved the trial is finally beginning.

"I feel more powerful today for myself and for her in the sense this trial will finally bring light to what has been kept in the dark for so long."

Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002, and has remained in custody while his case wound through the system.

After the voir dire, which is a trial within a trial to determine admissibility of evidence, he will elect to be tried by a judge and jury.

More than 750,000 documents form a case so massive that the Ministry of the Attorney-General's Stan Lowe said it is unprecedented.

The day at court began with a lineup of 200 people as spectators and media waiting to enter the courthouse for the Pickton trial mixed with people called for jury selection in another case.

Watching the comings and goings outside was Ceejai Julian, who provides counselling and support to sex-trade workers.

Ms. Julian, 37, spent more than one-third of her life trying to escape the sex trade. She started working in the Downtown Eastside at age 12.

She got scared after seeing too many friends disappear.

She is hopeful that the trial will convince more women to seek help to get off the streets. But it will be hard. After the media leave for the day and the daily coverage of the trial tapers off, Ms. Julian fears that the dangers will be forgotten.

"You don't know what's going to happen if you get in that car or stand on that corner," she said yesterday. "You are just desperate."

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sketches express softer side of missing women



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Updated: August 21, 2016