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Jody Paterson: Voices of sex workers are silenced once again

By Jody Paterson, Times ColonistJune 3, 2011

Columnist Jody Paterson.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist

So we've got an inquiry into a B.C. mass murder headed up by a man tainted by his political connections, presiding over a process that shuts out almost everyone on the side of the victims.

Yup, that sounds like a solid way to get at the truth about the Robert Pickton case.

Only sex workers could draw straws this short. Then again, only sex workers would be left to go missing and murdered on our streets for so long in the first place. It's baffling and heartbreaking, this misery we sustain in the name of "morality."

Should we be surprised, then, that the B.C. government has refused to cover legal costs for groups representing the interests of sex workers at the upcoming Robert Pickton inquiry?

It's a more blatant rejection than I'd have expected from a new premier, sure.

But isolated howls of protest aside, the government likely knows it's politically safe to stick it to groups acting in the interests of sex workers.

More than a decade of dead and missing women in the Downtown Eastside wasn't enough to get British Columbians riled enough to change one damn thing for sex workers. Why would they rise up now over a lack of money for legal representation?

The government's denial of support is reprehensible, but you can't argue with its political instincts. It's got the public's number on this one.

Lawyers collected $21 million after Pickton's trial. RCMP rang up $84 million on the investigation. We'll spend many millions more to revisit all of that during the inquiry that former attorney general Wally Oppal will be presiding over.

How far might money like that have gone if used instead to improve the lives of the troubled women Pickton preyed on? It turns my stomach to think of all the desperate women and their children who came looking for help in my three years at PEERS Victoria, and how little was available.

I was in the last year of that nonprofit job when Pickton went on trial. As I've noted in past rants on this subject, media called me from across the country that spring and summer to ask what I thought would change for outdoor sex workers now that "justice" was being done.

What can possibly change when the only time a sex worker gets any consideration is as a dead body?

Women were going missing for a long, long time from the Downtown Eastside before Pickton was ever brought to trial. If British Columbians had wanted to do right by outdoor sex workers, we would have taken preventive steps well before Pickton was even a suspect, and certainly in the years following his conviction. But we didn't.

I hope Pickton's victims are out there right now in some version of an afterlife, having a good, rueful laugh about all of this.

They were universally shafted in life, that's for sure. But I think they'd see the black humour in the small fortune we've lavished on them in death. Do the math on the $102 million in legal and police costs for the Pickton proceedings and it turns out we've spent almost $4 million for each of the 26 women Pickton was charged with killing.

All that for women we didn't have the time of day for back when they were alive. Women who struggled to find housing, support, addiction treatment or even an ounce of public sympathy when they were still walking the stroll.

And the kicker: None of that money altered one thing for the future victims of a future Pickton. It didn't change the law, or make a bit of difference in the lives of the vulnerable, impoverished women still working the grim outdoor strolls in our communities.

Families of Pickton's victims understandably want an inquiry. And they'll have it starting in September, albeit under the direction of a man who presided with indifference over the plight of outdoor sex workers in the years when he was attorney general.

The families will be able to share a lawyer at the government's expense during the inquiry. At least that ensures the voices of the dead are represented.

But the denial of legal aid to the sex workers' coalitions and community advocacy groups silences the voices of the living. Those groups have now withdrawn from the inquiry in protest. Once again, only the dead will be heard.

All that's left to feel is shame.

patersoncommunications@gmail.com

Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

 

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016