“Mom” of the Downtown Eastside Bonnie Fournier dies


Women's advocate fought for rights of sex trade workers


VANCOUVER -- Bonnie Fournier was known as Mom to many people living and working in the Downtown Eastside.

The psychiatric nurse — who had a passion for helping vulnerable people in the city’s poorest neighbourhood — was an outspoken advocate for Vancouver’s missing and murdered women.

She spent 28 years working in the holding cells at the provincial courthouse, followed by five years working in a health van that offered late-night medical services to sex-trade workers. As a result, she knew many of the women murdered at the Pickton pig farm in Coquitlam.

Fournier died Sunday.

Her son Paul Fournier announced her death in a Facebook post, describing her as someone who was a mother to everyone and loved all people unconditionally.

“She fought the biggest fight of her life and won the honour of leaving our physical world with her dignity to a beautiful place where there is neither pain nor suffering; where she can watch proudly over us all,” he wrote.

He also posted a few of his mother’s own words: “I aspire to inspire before I expire.”

And inspire she did. Friends describe her online as a champion for social justice, even fighting for and winning the right to testify at the Missing Women Inquiry.

Rae-Lynne Dicks, a former 911 operator who took calls during the time Robert Pickton was hunting sex trade workers, met Fournier at the inquiry at which they both testified. She recalled a time, shortly after she testified, when Fournier provided much needed comfort about a call Dicks took about woman who had been raped.

“Bonnie made a B-line, through all the people and came straight over to me and put her hand on my arm and said ‘I knew her. I was there that night.’” Fournier proceeded to tell Dicks that she had done a good job that night on the phone. She said from then on every time she turned around, Fournier was there and ready to talk.

“That’s the way she was. It felt like she already knew me. She made you feel that way, like you were already loved, already a part of her world,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Dicks described her friend as a person who showered people with love, kindness and respect and made them feel a little more worthy.

“That human side of her is key. It is so easy to get burnt out when working with the underprivileged. But she never did ... she would always stop to give a homeless person a hug or a kind word.”

She inspired people to love unconditionally, said Dicks, adding that she also encouraged many women, herself included, to continue her advocacy work to seek changes in laws to protect survival sex trade workers.

Fournier also wrote a book entitled Mugged, Drugged and Shrugged: The Wrong Side of the Eastside. Published in 2010, it chronicles her time patrolling the Downtown Eastside in her van, offering medicine, bandages and a friendly ear to those in need.

Fournier was born in Powell River in 1944. She went to Lord Byng secondary school in Vancouver and graduated as a registered psychiatric nurse in 1966 at the Essondale Hospital in Coquitlam.

In a 2008 interview with The Vancouver Sun’s Lori Culbert, Fournier shed tears when she spoke of the women she had befriended and lost over the decades, including Sereena Abotsway, one of the six women Pickton was convicted of killing in Port Coquitlam.

She told The Sun that Abotsway visited her every night she worked in the van to say hi to “Mom” and that when she died it was like losing a daughter.

Fournier advocated for more resources for sex trade workers, including better detox facilities, later hours for drop-in centres, and reinstatement of the health van, which stopped operating in 2004. She also believed in harm reduction sites like Insite, where injection-drug users can shoot up in a clean environment.

Fournier is survived by her husband Paul Fournier and children Paul and Karin.

A celebration of her life will take place on June 24 at 2 p.m. at Coquitlam Alliance Church.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016