Mona Wilson

From Disneyland to downtown: Mona's life full of highs
and lows

By Stephanie Levitz
The Canadian Press

Blocks away from where she sold herself in the last years of her life, Mona Wilson's brother tries to sell her in death.

Sitting at a Vancouver Starbucks, he offers report cards, photographs of her son, full access to the story of her often cold, hard life in exchange for cold, hard cash.

Her brother hates the system, the bureaucracy that took his sister away from the O'Chiese First Nation in Alberta, the government he thinks has taken advantage of his people and contributed to the cycle of violence that led to his sister's death.

At 26 years old, police said she vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in November of 2001.

Robert Pickton was charged with her murder.

Wilson's death needs to mean something to her brother. He needs to make her life story matter.

His family _ there are five siblings _ believes they'll just get used again if they give Wilson's story away for free, he says.

So pay for her mementoes, Jayson Fleury says, pay for her story. Pay like she was made to pay because society failed her.

The value of Wilson's life to her foster brother Greg Garley is different.

Between the ages of eight and 14, she lived on the Garleys' hobby farm in Surrey, B.C.

``I remember her smile, I remember what a great girl she was,'' Garley says. ``She would have been a great wife and a great mother, she had true love in her heart.''

Before she came to the Garleys, the young girl had been in a treatment centre after she was found cowering in the hallway of an apartment building, raw from a beating, Garley says.

When she got to the farm, instead of being a target, she became a helper, racing after her foster mother, tugging on rain boots as she ran to help tend the garden or feed the chickens.

When the family took a trip to Disneyland, he remembers Wilson's big eyes lighting up at the sight of rides and her favourite cotton candy.

``She went on billions of rides, she loved stuff like that, the fast ones,'' he says. ``We'd all feel sick getting on those kinds of rides but she just thought it was great. What's going to happen to her? She's got her big brother with her.''

When the Garley family went to church, as they did on many Sundays, Wilson would go along.

She liked being able to hang around with other kids her age, but hated the wardrobe.

``Oh boy, did she not like wearing dresses,'' says Garley.

After much cajoling, she'd consent to the ribbons and finery but not without a fight.

``Don't make me mad,'' was her signature phrase, Garley says, and she'd invoke it each time there was a struggle, her eyes narrowing, her brow furrowed and a massive frown crossing her face.

Despite the early aversion to dresses, she played with Barbies and loved to roam the aisles at Toys R Us, where she and Garley would have Silly String fights.

The transition from child to woman was the first time Garley said he saw Wilson break down about the violence she experienced as a child.

Though the women in the Garley house had talked to her about what would happen once she got her period, the day it came, shrieks reverberated around the house, followed by sobs that lasted the whole day.

``She thought she was bleeding to death I guess, like when this man was raping her as a child,'' Garley says.

``She didn't want to be a woman, she wanted to stay a kid.''

But a woman she became, now trading jeans for skirts and swiping her sisters' make-up.

``I remember when she got caught in the bathroom trying to put on lipstick,'' he says. ``Her lips were about three, four inches wide, she looked hilarious.''

She loved the colour pink and years later would be remembered by a teacher for her signature hot-pink lipstick.

After six years of being one of the family, Wilson was moved from the Garleys and placed with a single mother who had a 14-year-old son, Garley says.

From there, she moved to the east end of Vancouver, where she was living on her own at the age of 16.

What was left of her childhood ended when she left the Garleys. The stories of love ended there, too.

Though she kept calling the Garleys, usually once a month, they had no inkling she'd turned to heroin and was selling her body to finance her habit.

She refused to visit them, but sent pictures.

The year she turned 25, Wilson appeared in court for charges of theft, false pretenses and fraud.

Media reports suggest Wilson tried to get off heroin, but the addiction was too strong.

To her biological brother, Wilson 's death is yet another reason First Nations must continue their fight for acceptance and success in Canadian society.

To Garley, Wilson's death means the world lost a woman who could have been a great mother, sister, friend.

2006 The Canadian Press

MISSING LIVES - The Canadian Press

Five years ago a pig farm near Vancouver became one of Canada's largest crime scenes
What followed were headlines about the massive forensic investigation and 26 murder charges against Robert William Pickton.
Far from the headlines have been the stories of the dead women. Twenty-six women who lived on and disappeared from the streets of Canada's most dismal inner-city neighbourhood Vancouver's bleak Downtown Eastside. Twenty-six missing lives.

In the five years since the Pickton pig farm made national headlines, the memories of the women have faded even further from the public spotlight. When mentioned, they are usually referred to only as "drug addicts" or "street prostitutes." They are often only numbers 26 victims, their names seldom used in news reports. All of the stories behind the names have never been told. Until now.

The Canadian Press, Canada's independent news agency, felt those stories needed to be told. Six reporters from across the country spent hundreds of hours researching details not previously reported. The result is Missing Lives: profiles on each of the 26 women.

Missing Lives reveals the 26 women as daughters, sisters, mothers: troubled souls whose lives touched others in lasting ways.



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

Updated: August 21, 2016