Taken from her family Janet Henry - missing since June 28, 1997
Janet Henry comes from the KwaKwaQueWak
Nation in Kingcome Inlet in British Columbia. She was the youngest in a family
of thirteen. Her siblings have many happy memories of their childhood together.
Although their mother fell ill with lupis and rheumatoid arthritis and had to
undergo many operations, the older children were able to look after their
younger siblings. Their father, a logger and fisherman, ensured that the family
never went without. The eldest daughter, Donna Henry, recalls growing up
immersed in a very rich culture. When Janet Henry was young, Donna Henry
practiced traditional dances and songs with her.
security the family once enjoyed was short lived. The three oldest children were
taken away to residential school. After the death of their father, their mother
no longer had anyone to help her care for the younger children. Janet Henry and
four of her brothers and sisters were placed in foster homes.
One of Janet Henry’s sisters, Sandra Gagnon, describes the break up of the
family as the beginning of "a living nightmare." Many of the siblings lost both
their ties to their culture and their sense of self-esteem. Their years in
residential school or foster homes were followed by alcoholism and depression.
Their sister Lavina was raped and murdered when she was 19. Another sibling
In the midst of all the trauma the family had been subjected to, Sandra Gagnon
remembers how they always expected that Janet would have a bright future ahead
of her. "Janet was really a brilliant young woman," she said. "I never could
have imagined what happened to her." Janet Henry graduated from high school and
attended hairdressing school. She got married and had a daughter, to whom she
However, when Janet Henry’s marriage broke up in the late 1980s, her husband
gained custody of their daughter. Janet Henry was devastated. Donna Henry
recalls, "I watched my baby sister spiral." Janet Henry eventually ended up
living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a low income neighbourhood known for
drug and the street level sex trades. Her family learned that she had begun
attending parties where she engaged in sex in exchange for drugs.
It was a dangerous life. Violence against sex workers in the Downtown Eastside
is all too common. By 1990, however, women in the Vancouver sex trade, and the
families of women who had gone missing from the downtown Eastside, had begun to
suspect that there was more to this danger than random acts of violence.
Janet Henry was apparently aware of the danger and therefore phoned her brothers
and sisters frequently to let them know she was okay. The last time they heard
from her was in late June 1997.
Janet Henry’s family quickly became worried about her when her usual telephone
contacts with them ceased. Sandra Gagnon and her brother went to the Downtown
Eastside neighbourhood looking for her. After a few days, they reported her
missing to the police. Because the small amount of money that Janet Henry had
was still in her bank account, the family feared the worst.
Sandra Gagnon believes the police initially had one or two suspects in mind and
did what they could to follow these leads. However, once these suspects were
ruled out, she says the family heard less and less from the police. She speaks
positively of the officers who initially investigated her sister’s
disappearance. However, like other family members whose sisters and daughters
disappeared from the Downtown Eastside during this time, Sandra Gagnon feels the
city and the police force should have acknowledged the wider pattern of
disappearances much sooner and taken concerted action to ensure the safety of
women in the Downtown Eastside. "They never took the threat seriously," she
says. "I can guarantee you that if it wasn’t the Downtown Eastside and they
weren’t hookers, something would have been done in an instant."
In April 1999 family members of missing women called on the police to issue a
reward for information about the women who were going missing in the Downtown
Eastside. Although police had recently offered rewards for information about
robberies in more affluent neighbourhoods of the city, they initially declined
to do so in the case of the missing women. Instead the city suggested offering a
$5000 reward for any of the missing women who came forward, implying that they
did not believe they had been victims of foul-play. Mayor Owen said, "Police
have said there is no indication of crimes. Why don’t we start with [the $5000
reward] until we find out that someone is killing these women?"
Under mounting pressure from the families and increasing media coverage of the
issue, the police force eventually changed its position. The first posters
offering a reward for information on the missing women were distributed in July
1999. A small group of officers was assigned to work on the disappearances on an
ongoing basis. In 2000, the RCMP joined the review of evidence. A larger task
force was formed the following year.
On 6 February 2002, the Vancouver City Police/RCMP Task Force moved into a farm
in Port Coquitlam, outside Vancouver and sealed it off. For 21 months, they
conducted one of the largest police searches in Canadian history. On the basis
of evidence collected at the farm, the Crown initially laid charges against
Robert Pickton, the owner of the farm, for the murder of 15 women who had gone
missing from the Downtown Eastside, the vast majority of which were women who
went missing after 1997.
Robert Pickton’s case is expected to come to trial in 2005 or 2006 on at least
22 charges. In the meantime, the investigation of other women missing from the
Downtown Eastside continues. By April 2004, the number of cases under
investigation by police had grown to 60 women and one transgender person.
Nineteen of the missing women are Indigenous.
Janet Henry is not among the women whose DNA has found at the Port Coquitlam
farm. One of Janet Henry’s sisters went through the clothing and other
belongings found by police at the farm but didn’t recognize anything of Henry’s.
Family members continue to hope that their sister is still alive, but are slowly
giving up hope. "I go into denial and just keep hoping that maybe she just went
far away and she has been unable to get a hold of us," said Donna Henry. But
deep down inside, I know. We will probably never see her again."
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
Report-Stolen Sisters-Canada-Oct 4, 2004