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Group says 38 Downtown Eastside women still missing

Cops refute numbers in CEDAW report

Janaya Fuller-Evans

Special to Vancouver Courier

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Eight years after a special joint task force was formed between the Vancouver Police Department and the B.C. RCMP to solve more than 60 missing women cases in the Downtown Eastside, at least half remain unsolved.

In a report sent to the United Nations on Tuesday, B.C. CEDAW Group, a coalition of a dozen B.C. women's organizations, says 38 women on the list are still missing.

But according to police, two of the cases were solved in the past two years.

Laura Kathleen Mah was reported missing by her family in 1999. Investigators discovered in spring 2009 that Mah, 42, had died of natural causes at Burnaby General Hospital in 1986. Her death was filed with B.C. Vital Statistics under the name Marie Laura Mah.

Lillian Jean O'Dare was identified in 2007 from a skeleton found in an East Side house in 1989. She had disappeared in 1978.

According to an email from RCMP Staff Sgt. Wayne Clary, six other cases have moved forward, though charges have not been laid.

The Joint Missing Women Task Force, which runs Project Evenhanded, is still investigating about 30 cold cases of women missing from the Downtown Eastside.

The budget for the fiscal year is $6 million, Clary said.

The B.C. CEDAW Group filed a report with the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on Tuesday about the lack of progress on two priority recommendations the committee made in 2008.

The UN committee asked the federal government to provide a report by November 2009 on steps taken to deal with low social assistance rates and the disappearance and murder of aboriginal women and girls throughout Canada. The request was in keeping with Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

That report has not been filed, according to the B.C. CEDAW Group. "What we do know is aboriginal women and girls are still going missing and getting murdered," said Laura Holland, a founding member of the Aboriginal Women's Action Network, which is one of the member organizations of the group. "I think it's really important that Canada has an adequate response to this."

Throwing money into Project Evenhanded or other investigations isn't the answer, Holland said, noting no charges have been laid since Robert Pickton was convicted in 2008 of second-degree murder in the cases of six women from the Downtown Eastside. Pickton was charged with 27 counts of murder, with one case dismissed for lack of evidence. Twenty charges still stand.

The group wants the provincial and federal governments to work together to end the poverty that makes so many aboriginal women across the country vulnerable to violence, she added, and should work together to provide answers to the families of the missing women. "They have been aware of this pattern of racial violence [for a long time]," Holland said. "They need to find out what happened and how to prevent it in the future."

RCMP Cpl. Annie Linteau, spokesperson for Project Evenhanded, would not specify how many officers are working on the investigation, saying only that the number changes and that all of the cases are being looked at.

Linteau could not identify how many of the missing women are of First Nations descent or other specifics on the task force because she was away from her Vancouver office at a press conference in Prince George for the "Highway of Tears" investigation into missing aboriginal women in northern B.C.

 Vancouver Courier 2010

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016