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Bribery will get us nowhere

Vancouver Courier
By: Allen Garr

Wednesday, April 14, 1999

People demanding the reward are appealing more to liberal squeamishness than to good sense.

I DON'T THINK VANCOUVER AND THE province should put up a $100,000 reward to deal with the 21 prostitutes who have gone missing in the past four years, and I don't like the political blackmailing that's going on to get that reward posted.

Let me explain. I'll start with the reward, which is simple, and get to the more complicated issue of blackmail later. Rewards rarely work. The cops will tell you that. They will also tell you rewards will only help when there is a specific target. That's what they think they have with the two dozen West Side garage-invasion robberies that have taken place in Vancouver in the past months. They suspect that the same pair of armed thugs has pulled off all these heists in a very brief time. Here, the police argue that a sizable reward of $100,000 makes sense, although it has so far failed to produce any results. A $100,000 reward hasn't helped get results on home invasions either. I was reminded of one other reward that was posted when I drove past a clear cut on the ocean side of Northwest Marine Drive in the University Endowment Lands a few years ago.

Two years ago a couple of urban loggers took down 34 trees, including a clump of 100-year-old maples. That dramatically improved the view of Burrard Inlet and the lands beyond, but the GVRD was not amused. It's GVRD land. The district posted an unprecedented reward of $5,000 to catch the cutters and whoever put them up to it.

There's now a civil case involving, among others, well-known Vancouver socialite Jacqueline Cohen. That's her property with the improved view on the other side of the road from the clear cut. Cohen has denied any involvement. The Crown prosecutor says he will decide soon on criminal charges.

There is still a question, though, as to whether the reward actually worked to move this case forward. Even the guy from the GVRD isn't so sure. He said if intrepid BCTV reporter Harvey Oberfeld hadn't schlepped himself and his cameraman through the clear cut and onto the small screen several nights running, nothing might have happened. So if this case does go anywhere it could easily be argued it was because the publicity and not the reward money.

This brings me back to the missing prostitutes and the noisy demand for reward money. Let's remember: unlike the garage robberies, the home invasions and the clear cutting, there's no evidence a crime has been committed.

People demanding a reward say they suspect that a serial killer is systematically bumping these women off. At the risk of sounding hardhearted, I have to wonder. Where is the proof? In fact, one woman turned up after going missing for almost two years.

There is no doubt these women are in a high-risk business that frequently puts them in harm's way. They are easily victimized and often treated as disposable commodities by sexual predators. Clearly their lives should be made safer.

But people demanding the reward are appealing more to liberal squeamishness than to good sense. I'm sure you have heard the argument: If West Side crime can draw $100,000 reward and nothing is offered for these missing women in the Downtown East Side, the message is clear. So rewards become a statement of how much we care as opposed to a tool for solving crime. Or worse, politicians post rewards--in this case Philip Owen and Ujjal Dosanjh--because they want nothing so much as to be loved and re-elected.

Don't be surprised if that is exactly what happens when the issue is raised at the police board later this month.

This will simply play into the so-far-unproved notion that there is one lunatic on a killing spree. liberal guilt will be assuaged. Political careers will be bolstered. But the problems that led those 21 women to go missing will be no closer to being solved.

Letter sent to the editor but not printed, By: Maggie deVries

As the sister of one of the women who are missing from the Downtown Eastside, I have been lobbying the Attorney-General and the Vancouver police board to take further action to solve the twenty-two cases. Specifically, I, and many others, have been asking that the police acknowledge the possibility that a crime (or crimes) has been committed; offer a reward for information leading to the conviction of a predator; establish a task force; and offer police protection to anyone who might be afraid to come forward with information.

In his column of April 14, Allen Garr states that, in making the above demands, which he calls "noisy," I am "appealing to liberal squeamishness." He refers to "political blackmailing" and the headline uses the word "bribery."

My understanding is that I am engaging with other concerned people in a process that is fundamental to democracy.

I want to know what happened to my sister, Sarah deVries, and I have talked to thirteen families who want to know what has happened to their sisters, daughters and mothers. We have good reason to believe that a number of the missing women have met with violence. On April 20, on the David Berner show on CKNW, Detective Lori Shenher, who is working on these cases exclusively, expressed a similar opinion. No one is suggesting that a serial killer is responsible for all the disappearances, or that they all involve murder. But it is equally unlikely that none of the cases are related.

Careful thought and much consultation led to making the four demands. They are a means to an end. I am very interested in any other steps that might also be helpful. No such ideas are mentioned in Garr's column.

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