Thousands march in support of B.C.'s missing and murdered women


It has been a heartbreaking Valentine’s Day tradition for more than two decades.

The largest crowd to date marched through the streets of the Downtown Eastside Tuesday for the 21st Annual Women’s Memorial March to pay tribute to missing and murdered women and the loved ones left behind.

With B.C.’s top criminal lawyers gearing up for a key RCMP witness Wednesday at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, First Nations and women’s groups largely shut out of the inquiry marched in protest.

The mood at the march was angry and sombre, yet deeply caring toward the 75 children orphaned by their mothers’ murders and the thousands of grieving relatives and friends.

Clutching his mother’s death certificate, an angry Troy Boen, 26, said he still has been told nothing about how his mother died, except that her DNA was found on the Port Coquitlam farm of serial killer Robert Pickton.

“I attended every day of (Pickton’s) trial and had to sit five feet away from that piece of s---, but nobody from victims’ services or the police even told me there was an inquiry underway,” said Boen, a full-time student.

“Nobody told my family or me we had the right to a lawyer or to be at that inquiry, and the way I heard about it today, it looks like we’re paying for a bunch of rich lawyers to speak for the police.

“I was raised by my grandma, and now I have two daughters who will never even know they had a grandma,” said Boen, fighting back tears.

RCMP confirmed that the DNA of Yvonne Boen was found on a lipstick and a blouse on Pickton’s farm, but Pickton was never charged with her murder.

Troy Boen was accompanied by other missing women’s family members, including Sarah Jeanie de Vries, 20, daughter of the well-loved Sarah de Vries, a DTES resident who vanished in 1998 and was much later found to be a victim of Pickton.

Close to 5,000 people assembled in a large circle that shut down Main and Hastings streets, then marched through the Downtown Eastside to sites from which women vanished or were found murdered.

Aboriginal grandmothers lit sage and tobacco and said prayers at each site.

“Women continue to go missing across Canada, women are still being thrown out of hotel room windows to their death down here,” said Marlene George, a march organizer.

“We are here to honour and remember the women, and because the violence continues every day,” said George, noting no one has been charged in the deaths of two women thrown from skid row hotels in the past two years. The city has yet to require hotels even put bars on the flophouse windows.

Much of the anger was directed at what George called the “sham” inquiry, which she said “continues to marginalize women.”

Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal shut down hearings for the afternoon to show respect for the women’s march.

Slated to appear Wednesday at the inquiry is retired RCMP Insp. Don Adam, former head of the Missing Women task force. Adam, praised for extracting a “confession” from Robert Pickton in 2002, has been criticized for conducting a “paper file review” while as many as 12 more women were murdered by Pickton.

Adam has said he did not initially believe a serial killer was still active.

The inquiry has cost $4 million to date. In recent weeks, the number of lawyers paid from the public purse has swelled to more than 20, as VPD and RCMP officers rush to “lawyer up” in the face of mounting evidence that police, especially top brass, did little to halt Pickton’s killing spree.

Convicted of killing six women, Pickton bragged of murdering 49 women and brazenly dumping remains on his farm or at a Vancouver rendering plant.

On Monday, top criminal lawyer Len Doust, acting for the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch, showed up at the inquiry to demand that the families’ lawyers, Neil Chantler and Cameron Ward, apologize for demanding more disclosure and branding the inquiry a “whitewash.”

Although Oppal recommended funding for a wide range of women’s and First Nations groups, B.C. Premier Christy Clark refused to do so in early 2011, saying she would rather the money went to women still living and struggling in poverty.

“No one has gotten any extra money, just more and more money is flowing to the police and their lawyers,” said Mona Woodward of the Aboriginal Front Door Society.

“This was the largest serial killing investigation in Canada, but it seems the system will only spend money on First Nations women once we’re dead,” said an angry Jessica Wood, a First Nations activist and march organizer. “Millions of dollars were spent on the investigation, and the trial, and now the inquiry and lawyers.

“We’re swept to the side again.”

The VPD’s Sister Watch program, set up to help women with information about violent crimes to safely come forward, is a positive step, but “women are still highly vulnerable,” said Wood. “The police can’t protect their own women officers. How can they help us?”

Also attending the march was former VPD beat cop Dave Dickson, one of the first to sound the alarm in the late 1990s that women were missing from the Downtown Eastside and that most of them must have met with foul play.

The attempts by Dickson and VPD Det. Const. Lori Shenher to investigate the missing women and focus on Pickton as a suspect fell on deaf ears, as senior officers dismissed the possibility of an active serial killer.

VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard, who spent more than a week on the stand at the inquiry speaking about his report on the VPD investigation, also was in attendance at the Women’s Memorial March.

LePard, whose report was highly critical of some aspects of the VPD investigation, was out of uniform and joined in as a marcher, something he said he has quietly done before.

Oppal’s inquiry is slated to continue until the end of April and he has pledged to hand in his final report by the end of June.

The commission has spent a full day dealing with motions by the families’ lawyer Neil Chantler for full disclosure of 11 categories of police files on the Pickton investigation.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016