New information on missing women

Vancouver Courier-By: Pat Johnson

Tip about bodies treated seriously but police still won't use the M word

     VANCOUVER POLICE are investigating a tip about the location of bodies of sex trade workers missing from the Downtown Eastside.

     Police spokeswoman Cst. Anne Drennan acknowledged that they received information Thursday on an alleged location but would not discuss the matter further. She did say it is not the first tip the department has received in the case.

     But she strenuously denied the disappearances of more than 20 sex trade workers are now being treated as homicides.

     Drennan said her comments on the subject have been broadly misinterpreted or ignored by media. The police are not treating the missing women as murder victims because there are no bodies and absolutely no hard evidence to indicate murder, she said.

     Police cannot open a murder case file until there is proof that a murder has been committed--until then, the cases must be treated as missing persons, she said.

     "I can say it until I', blue in the face," said a frustrated Drennan.
     "But we openly acknowledge that some of these women may have met with foul play.

     The discrepancy between these two positions has angered some activists as well as family members of the 23 missing women, who say evidence such as uncollected welfare checks and untouched bank accounts indicates foul play.

     Drennan said the media has ignored her repeated acknowledgments that murder is a possibility, and exacerbated an already painful situation by suggesting police are not doing all they can to solve the cases.

     Downtown Eastside activists remain critical of the police approach. Jamie Lee Hamilton, who runs Grandma's House, a drop-in centre for sex trade workers, said suggestions that women have moved away, overdosed or committed suicide are diversionary and suggest the police are blind to the obvious.

     She cites the Paul Bernardo case in Ontario as an example of police who, operating under preconceived notions, overlooked useful clues. In the Bernardo case, police assumed a Camaro of a particular colour was involved in the crime and spent valuable time operating on that incorrect assumption.

     Hamilton is calling for a multijurisdictional task force to investigate the missing women.

     John Turvey, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society (DEYAS), said murders at one end of a continuum of violence that street workers face.

     "I don't think that street-level sex trade workers have ever been a priority for higher-level police," said Turvey, adding that neighbourhood-based officers have made important inroads with local community groups and individuals.

     But Turvey said the suggestion that there may be a serial killer on the loose is a red herring. More frightening by far, he said, is that numerous men are preying on women they view as vulnerable.

     By not throwing more resources at violence against women in the Downtown Eastside, Turvey argued, the police are perpetuating the view that those women are disposable and violence can be committed against them with impunity.

     But Drennan lashes out at comments like that.

     Police are dealing with the cases of the missing women in the most appropriate manner, she said.

     "These are not throw-aways," she said. "We consider them an important part of the community."

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

Updated: August 21, 2016