Vancouver women who disappeared immediately missed, inquiry told


OCTOBER 19, 2011

VANCOUVER Street sex trade workers who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were immediately missed, a former street nurse testified Wednesday at the Missing Women inquiry.

Catherine Astin recalled that she knew a number of missing women, including Sereena Abotsway.

"She was very playful, very lovely," she told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.

Street nurses asked on the street if anyone had seen Abotsway shortly after she vanished, she said.

"One minute she was there and then she was gone," Astin recalled. "She didn't just fade away. She was missed.".

Astin, now a community outreach nurse specializing in HIV/AIDS, recalled dealing with many street sex workers over the years.

She said the majority were First Nations women who had suffered sex abuse in childhood. One woman recalled she had been gang-raped at the age of seven, Astin testified.

"Rape is a huge factor in these women's lives," she told the inquiry.

She said the women used drugs to cope with the pain of past and ongoing trauma and violence in their fractured lives.

Astin recalled visiting sex workers at night on prostitution "strolls" in the Downtown Eastside, which she described as Dickensian.

They were dark, gloomy, wet and cold, she told the inquiry.

"The strolls are in the most isolated part of the Downtown Eastside."

Astin said women working the strolls noticed their colleagues disappearing but didn't know why. They also felt police were doing nothing, she added.

Cross-examining her, lawyer Cameron Ward, who represents 18 families of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on Downtown Eastside sex trade workers, asked if she ever went to police to report any of the missing women.

"No, I don't know why," she said. "I didn't feel it was my responsibility."

She recalled she did talk to Mona Wilson's partner, who had already reported Wilson missing.

She also noted that women working the street had an aversion to talking with police because of past negative experiences.

The inquiry is hearing a number of "contextual" witnesses about the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and details of the tragic and often brutal lives of the area's women before they disappeared.

Astin recalled most of the women she dealt with were very proud of their children, even if they didn't have custody of their kids because of the lifestyle.

The next witness is expected to be Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-director of the Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

The inquiry, being held on the eighth floor of the Federal Court, can hear the pounding beat of the First Nations drummers and singers on the street below.

Earlier in the day, the inquiry acknowledged the presence of Lilliane and Rene Beaudoin of Welland, Ont.

Lilliane's sister, Dianne Rock, 34, disappeared exactly 10 years ago, on Oct. 19, 2001.

A mother of five children who had been working before she had a drug relapse, Rock's family was later shocked to get a call from police, saying that Rock had been killed by Pickton.

Rock was one of the last women to disappear before Pickton's arrest in February 2002.

The inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch the serial killer, despite tips given to police in 1998 that suggested Pickton had identification of missing women at his farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

After his arrest, Pickton confessed to an undercover officer, posing as a cellmate, that he killed 49 women and planned to kill more.

An exhaustive search of Pickton's farm, which took almost two years, found the DNA of 33 of 61 women reported missing.

Pickton was charged with 27 murders, which were divided into two trials.

His first jury trial ended in 2007 with Pickton being convicted on six murder counts.

After Pickton exhausted all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on the second trial involving the remaining 20 murder counts.




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016