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Drug, prostitution laws, police must change in wake of missing women: MP

DENE MOORE
Canadian Press

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

VANCOUVER (CP) - The Canadian Criminal Code aided and abetted the murders of 11 women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside, says the member of Parliament for the area. Libby Davies said Wednesday the criminalization of drug addiction and the sex trade marginalized the women and put them at risk.

"The law not only failed them, it aided and abetted their demise," Davies said in a statement.

Robert William Pickton has been charged with the first-degree murders of 11 of the 63 women missing from the Downtown Eastside since 1978. Thirty-eight of the women have vanished since January 1997.

The lack of social programs to help addicts and discrimination by police contributed to the deaths and will cause more in the future, Davies said in an interview.

"They're the easiest people to prey on and they are the easiest people to ignore," said Davies, the New Democrat MP for Vancouver East, a constituency that encompasses the notorious neighbourhood known as the poorest postal code in Canada.

"Basically, as a society we treat these people as disposable garbage and that is why we have 63 women who are missing."

Davies said discrimination within the police department meant the disappearances weren't taken seriously.

"Why did so many more women have to go missing and potentially be now the victims of homicide. . . ."

Karen Duddy, the executive director of the WISH Drop-in Centre for prostitutes in the Downtown Eastside said despite the questions raised by the case, the centre will have to scale back programs due to lack of funding.

The centre, now open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. six nights a week, will close one or two nights when it should be open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night when women are out working the street, she said.

The centre's two staffers and five volunteers don't have time to administer a safety program aimed at collecting personal information about sex trade workers and can't even afford film to take identifying pictures, she said.

"We're just trying our damnedest to do the most we can for them," Duddy said.

Government cutbacks to social programs and Ottawa's refusal to do anything to stem drug deaths means hundreds more women will die in the Downtown Eastside, Davies said.

"There will be women on the street tonight who are in grave danger of violence and possibly death," she said.

Family members of many of the missing have called for a public inquiry but police and government officials say such an inquiry would interfere with the ongoing investigation.

Davies said she will meet with Justice Minister Martin Cauchon when Parliament resumes this fall to ask him to set up an inquiry and a review of prostitution laws.

She said she will also encourage Cauchon to decriminalize drug addiction and set up safe injection sites and trial heroin maintenance programs to supply addicts with drugs rather than force them into crime to feed their habit.

Pickton's preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin in November, although the Crown could still file a direct indictment that would take the case straight to B.C. Supreme Court for trial.

A team of 91 police officers, archeologists and anthropologists are still excavating Pickton's property in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam and expect to be there for many more months.

The search of his pig farm began in February.

 Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016