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"A daily part of life" Sarah de Vries - missing April 14, 1998; confirmed dead August 6

So many women, so many that I never even knew about, are missing in action. Itís getting to be a daily part of life.

Sarah de Vries was born on May 12, 1969. Sarahís mother was an Indigenous woman from the West Coast of Canada, who was also of European and African Canadian ancestry. Her father was an Indigenous man from Mexico. During the first year of her life, Sarah de Vries lived with her mother on weekends and with another family during the week. After ten months, her birth mother decided to give her up for adoption. She was adopted by a white couple in Vancouver.

Her adoptive family remembers Sarah de Vries being a bright and happy child who was always eager for the attention of her parents and her three siblings. She loved to write stories and poetry and kept a journal most of her life. She also loved to swim and some of her happiest times growing up were at a family cottage in Ontario.

"I remember her as being a very happy little girl, adventurous and very interested in the whole world around her," her sister Maggie de Vries recalls. "She was athletic, creative and loved to tell stories."

Despite these happy memories, Maggie de Vries feels that her sister may have missed out on the sense of stability or belonging that she craved and needed as a child. By the time Sarah de Vries was six, her parentsí marriage was in difficulty. They separated when Sarah de Vries was nine and two the two older children stayed with their father while de Vries and her younger brother went to live with their mother.

At the same time Sarah de Vries was beginning to think of herself as an outsider between cultures. She was self conscious about the fact that she stood out within her family and within the almost exclusively white neighborhood where she lived. She also struggled to understand why her birth mother had given her up for adoption. Maggie de Vries remembers one time her sister cried for hours when a teacher asked her to draw up her family tree.

In her twenties, Sarah de Vries wrote in her journal:

Man, I donít understand how the adoption agency could let a couple that are both of the opposite colour as the child become this childís legal guardians. I understand that they were not as strict as they are today on things of race, gender and traditions. But, come on, did they honestly think that it would have absolutely no effect on my way of thinking or in the way I present my persona? Iím not accepted into the Caucasian social circle nor am I accepted in the black social circle, for I am neither white nor black... Iím stuck in the middle and outside both. I have no people. I have no nation and I am alone.

At other times de Vries wrote about how much she loved her adoptive family and how conflicted she was about them. She was caught shoplifting near the end of grade five and ran away for the first time shortly before her fourteenth birthday. Yet that summer, she wrote in the family cottage guest book, "I really love you a lot and I am so glad to have been adopted into this family Ö" And that August she wrote in a letter to her sister,

I really love you a lot, no matter how mean and nasty I am to you, and when I think how mean I was, I feel really bad, so I LOVE YOU. I wish I could tell Mom how unhappy I am, but I myself donít know. But I do know this. I love you and Mom so much that I start to cry when I think about you.

Over the following year, she ran away many times, often staying out for days at a time. Her parents would look for her but could not prevent her from running away again. She gravitated to downtown Vancouver where, still a child, she supported herself by selling sex.

She clearly struggled with a sense of dislocation and a need to define her identity. She felt lost between two worlds. On the street she found friends and a sense of community

Sarah de Vries began experimenting with drugs and gradually became addicted to heroin and later to cocaine. She also used crack cocaine. In one of her journal entries, she wrote: "Supporting a heroin and cocaine habit is not fun and games; you have to make the money. No money. No drugs. No drugs, you go sick. You go sick, forget trying to pull a trick."
Sarah de Vries kept coming home for brief periods of time until she was eighteen. She also spent time in group homes and in a youth detention centre. During her time on the streets, friends recall that she remained a kind and giving person. She would look out for younger girls, encouraging them to go home. She would also look after homeless people. Friends described her as having an effervescent personality that attracted many people to her.

In December, 1990, Sarah de Vries had her first child, a daughter, who was born addicted to heroin. The next year, 1991, she spent six months in prison. In May, 1996, she had her second child, a son. He was born addicted to heroin and cocaine and spent his first few months in foster care because neither Sarah de Vries nor social services informed de Vriesí family about him. At about the same time that her son was born, Sarah de Vries discovered that she was HIV positive and that she had hepatitis C.

Sarah de Vries was aware that other women in the sex trade were dying violent deaths, from overdoses and physical violence. Or were going missing. In December 1995, she wrote in her journal:

Am I next? Is he watching me now? Stalking me like a predator and its prey. Waiting, waiting for some perfect spot, time or my stupid mistake. How does one choose a victim? Good question, isnít it? If I knew that, I would never get snuffed.

However she could not overcome her drug habits or take other steps to get off the street. Toward the end of her life, she wrote,

Iíve sentenced myself to life imprisonment, no chance of parole, no chance of release, no judge, no jury, no pre-sentence inquiry. ÖI made this big, empty cold, senseless cell, escape proof. And, of course, I left no mistakes; in no part of my brilliant architectural plan is there a way for anybody to get in and realize who I really am, not that I know the answer to that question.

Sarah de Vries had a padlocked room in a small house in the downtown eastside where she lived and could keep her things. Having a room of her own and a stable address helped to keep her safe. But in the fall of 1997 she moved out. She had plans to find an apartment with her then boyfriend, but that didnít work out. She then ended up living in hotels, as she had done in her teens and early twenties.

Through all of it, Sarah de Vries maintained contact with her family. She visited her son once in foster care, before he moved back east to live with his grandmother. She saw her daughter every summer when her daughter came to Vancouver and had started drawing an alphabet colouring book for her. She also saw her sister regularly when her sister took her to doctorís appointments.

Sarah de Vries was last seen on April 14, 1998. A close friend tried to report her missing, but he alleges that the Vancouver police refused to take the report because he was not a family member. He contacted de Vriesí sister, Maggie de Vries, who filed the report. Maggie de Vries says the police did not interview her about her sisterís disappearance until 10 more days had passed.

Maggie de Vries recalls that individual police officers were helpful and clearly working hard to find out what happened to her sister. However, like other relatives of women who disappeared at this time in downtown Vancouver, she is frustrated that the police and the city took so long to acknowledge there was a larger pattern beyond the individual cases and to mobilize a coordinated investigation.

On August 6, 2002, the family was informed by the Task Force that Sarah de Vriesí DNA had been found on the Port Coquitlam farm which has been at the centre of the joint Vancouver Police Department/RCMP Missing Womenís Task Force investigation into the abduction and murder of women from the Downtown Eastside. As of September 2004, no charges had been laid in her murder. Robert Pickton is expected to come to trial in 2005 or 2006 on at least 22 charges of murder stemming from that investigation.

Amnesty International is a worldwide voluntary, activist movement that works
impartially to prevent violations of people's fundamental rights.
Amnesty International Canada (English speaking) 312 Laurier Avenue East,
Ottawa, ON, K1N 1H9 | Phone: (613) 744-7667 or 1-800-AMNESTY Fax: (613) 746-2411
Email:
info@amnesty.ca

Amnesty International Report-Stolen Sisters-Canada-Oct 4, 2004

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016