Families of missing women ‘stonewalled’ by police

Greg Middleton
The Province

Monday, April 01, 2002

Reporting a missing woman was virtually impossible for years, says a relative of one of the 55 women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Anne Livingstone, the co-ordinator for the Vancouver Network of Drug Users, said her family tried to report a family member missing for years.

"I was outraged when I read that some of the five women just added to the list of missing women were only reported missing by their families years later," Livingston said.

Five women were added last week to the list of 50 women who are part of an investigation into a possible serial killer.

Two of those women went missing four and five years ago, but police say they were only reported missing by relatives in the past month.

Livingston said that trying to report a woman missing if she was a prostitute, and especially if she was native, was like trying to talk to a stone wall.

And the stone wall was a civilian clerk the reports were funnelled through, she said.

"That is part of what went wrong here, part of the problem," Livingston said. "We were told 40-year-old native women don't go missing."

Livingston said she's heard a number of times from families of women on the list that they tried repeatedly to report their loved one missing, only to be brushed off by police.

Livingston said that when she came to Vancouver in 1993, her then 16-year-old niece contacted her to say the girl's mother, her sister-in-law Elsie Sebastion, hadn't been seen for a year.

Livingston said she tried to report Sebastion missing a number of times. On some occasions, she was told she was not a close enough relative to make a missing-persons report. On others, she was told to phone 911 and 911 directed her back to the person she had been talking to.

"We gave up," said Livingston.

Her sister-in-law had gone from having a drinking problem to a heroin addiction and prostitution before she went missing.

"We would go out and paper the area with posters," Livingston said. "There were lots of other posters out there. You would see them all the time."

Finally, the family just insisted that police take the report, taking the names of those they talked to and threatening to make a complaint until a report was finally taken, she said.

In some cultures, such as the native culture, people do not aggressively insist on being heard by the authorities, she said.

"I'm an aggressive, white, middle-class woman and I couldn't make myself heard," said Livingston.

"It makes you wonder how many other women have gone missing and their relatives just gave up." 

© Copyright  2002 The Province

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