Celebration of life outside courthouse

By Michael McQuillan
Black Press

Feb 01 2006

27 counts
of murder

Robert Pickton is charged with murdering 27 women, most of them from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside:

• Sereena Abotsway,
• Mona Wilson,
• Jacqueline McDonell,
• Diane Rock,
• Heather Bottomley,
• Andrea Joesbury,
• Brenda Ann Wolfe,
• Jennifer Lynn Furminger,
• Helen Mae Hallmark,
• Patricia Rose Johnson,
• Georgina Faith Papin,
• Heather Chinnock,
• Tanya Holyk,
• Sherry Irving,
• Inga Hall
• Marnie Frey,
• Tiffany Drew,
• Sarah Devries,
• Cynthia Feliks,
• Angela Jardine,
• Diana Melnick,
• Jane Doe,
• Debra Lynne Jones,
• Wendy Crawford,
• Kerry Koski,
• Andrea Borhaven,
• Cara Ellis.

The start of what is expected to be Canada’s most high profile court case offered more emotion outside the courthouse than in.

mario bartel/black press

A native drummer cries her lament for the missing women in front of banners listing their names outside the B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on Monday, the first day of the trial for Willy Pickton, charged with murdering 27 of those women.

Family, friends and sympathizers of the alleged 27 murder victims of Robert William Pickton told their stories outside New Westminster Provincial Courthouse Monday morning.

While Pickton uttered "not guilty" numerous times on the opening day of the trial in Courtroom 101, those outside told stories about how missing women cases were ignored for years by police, their lives devalued, and the continued need for healing and support on the Downtown Eastside, from where many of the women went missing.

Jennifer Steel spent the morning outside the courthouse with other women, holding up a quilted banner for the women allegedly killed by Pickton and those still missing.

The Burnaby woman was a sex trade worker in 2001 on the Downtown Eastside and on Burnaby’s Kingsway strip.

"I could have been one of them, it was that close. I knew women were missing but I still went out and worked to make money. It didn’t matter to me at the time," said Steel, as the drums of a healing circle beat nearby.

Today she feels a kinship with many of those killed and missing women.
"Back then I didn’t feel I had value, just like many of them. Now I do.
"I want to celebrate the life I have now. I’m trying to do that now in honour of the women who were murdered. That makes today important for us to stand here, for their memory."

Gretel, who wouldn’t give her last name, also held part of the 50-foot banner. She currently studies at Douglas College and does advocacy work on the Downtown Eastside. A friend has a sister still working on the streets.

"These women have been viewed as disposable women. Their disappearance was not viewed seriously," she said.

If there is anything positive to come out of the trial, she hopes it is to focus on how many women are victims of poverty and violence.

"I would say the start of this trial is a turning point. It’s the beginning of something. I know a lot of these people have never been given a voice. Maybe now people will listen," said the New Westminster woman.

Marlene Trick, a community programmer for the Carnegie Community Centre on the Downtown Eastside, summed up the thoughts of many of the women, families and friends gathered on the opening day.

"We shouldn’t have to gather like this. But as long as there’s violence and murder of women we will continue to do this," said Trick.

"We’re here to remember that these women had families, lives and, as it’s been reported, there’s over 75 children that were left behind from these women."

Kerry Koski is one of the women Pickton is charged with murdering. He sister, Val Hughes, started the Missing Women’s Legacy Society and Legacy House, a drug detox and rehabilitation centre in Maple Ridge. It is now closed.

Koski has three daughters.

Val Hughes is another of the missing women. She lived in Maple Ridge before migrating to the Downtown Eastside. She also has a daughter.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016