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DOSANJH AWAITS POLICE REQUEST FOR REWARD ON MISSING WOMEN

Chad Skelton,The Vancouver Sun--Tuesday, April 6, 1999

     The province will put up a reward to help solve the disappearance of 21 women on the Downtown Eastside since 1995 if Vancouver police ask for it, Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh said Monday.
     "If, after due deliberation, the request came from the Vancouver police...we would absolutely favorably respond to that," he said in an interview Monday.
     But Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, the chairman of the police board, said Monday he was reluctant to authorize a reward when police have not come up with any evidence that the missing women have in fact been murdered---or that their disappearances are linked.
    Owen said he would bring up the issue of the reward at the next police board meeting later this month.
     Since 1995, 21 "street-involved" women, most prostitutes and drug addicts, have gone missing from the east side.  No bodies have been discovered and only one has been found alive.
     For more than a month, activists on the Downtown Eastside have been calling on the province and police to put up a reward to catch what they believe is a serial killer operating in the area.
     Earlier this year, the province and police put up a $100,000 reward to catch those responsible for a rash of 30 home invasions against the elderly---one of which left a woman dead.
     Then, last week, another $100,000 reward was offered to solve a series of armed robberies against people in their garages---none of which resulted in injuries.
     In both cases, the police board donated $30,000 and the province $70,000.
     Last week, Maggie deVries, sister of Sarah deVries---one of the 21 missing women---sent a letter to both Dosanjh and Owen calling on them to offer a reward in the case and to set up a task force to investigate the disappearances.
     "It concerns me that there is this perception that we're not doing enough on this issue," Dosanjh said, noting that both provincial rewards were a response to specific police requests for assistance.   He said he has asked officials in his ministry to talk to Vancouver police and brief him further about the cases.
     But Dosanjh cautioned that rewards are not a "panacea" and are usually offered only when police hit a dead-end in their investigation and believe a reward would draw out more information.
     Police have little physical evidence in the cases and no reason to believe the cases are connected or that the women have been murdered.
     But while police say they are reluctant to offer a reward without evidence a serial killer really is responsible for the missing women, activists and family members argue a reward is the very thing that could convince someone to come forward with evidence of such a crime.
     Maggie deVries said police would have little to lose by establishing a reward right now for information that leads to a murder conviction in the cases.
     If the women have indeed been murdered, as many suspect, the reward could help catch a very dangerous criminal---or criminals---and would be money well spent, she said.
    On the other hand, she said, if fears of a killer are unfounded and the women are not the victims of foul play, police won't have to pay a cent---and the criticism that they are not doing enough will abate.
     "It seems like a win-win," deVries said.
     Dosanjh said the suspicion that some of the women may have simply moved away from Vancouver has led him to also consider the possibility of "mini-rewards" of about $1,000 each, which would be payable to the women themselves if they notify family or police of their whereabouts.  Such small sums could help bring peace of mind to many families, Dosanjh said, and help police narrow their investigation.

Missing prostitutes: 23; arrests: 0    Monday, April 5, 1999.

Toronto Globe and Mail--By JANE ARMSTRONG--British Columbia Bureau, Vancouver

If 20 UBC students were to vanish, sister says, there would be mayhem

     In her dreams, Sandy Gagnon's younger sister is no longer missing.  Instead, Janet Henry is safe and sound and the sisters are again huddled over a meal at their favourite Chinese restaurant in suburban Maple Ridge.
     In the morning, reality envelops Ms. Gagnon with depressing clarity.  The truth must be her sister is dead, likely murdered.
     Throughout the day, her mind races through every gruesome scenario.  Was Janet kept alive?  Did she suffer?   At night, in her dreams, she returns to her favourite version, the fictional one in which Janet is okay.
     "It's so hard not knowing because your mind goes everywhere," Ms Gagnon, 43, said.
     "I don't think she's alive though.  If she's alive, she's suffering or dying."
     Ms Gagnon hasn't seen or heard from her sister for two years when Mrs. Henry, then 37, vanished from Vancouver's downtown east side, a notorious 10-block-square swath of the city that is home to thousands of drug addicts, and prostitutes.  When she disappeared, the one-time wife, mother and hairdresser was a prostitute, an alcoholic and a drug addict.
     Twenty-two other prostitutes have also been reported missing from this area since 1995.  Last year, 10 women vanished, almost one a month.  All were drug addicts or alcoholics or both.

Relatives bemoan lack of progress

     They lived the transient lifestyle of the hard-core underclass; turning to prostitution and theft to feed drug habits, sleeping in cheap hotels or crashing in flophouses.
     Some believe a serial killer is stalking Vancouver's skid row.  Last month, a man confessed to a psychiatrist of a plan to kidnap, torture and kill prostitutes.  Police are investigating the man's whereabouts over the past few years in connection with the disappearances.
     But as the months pass with still no clues, the missing women's relatives are increasingly frustrated about the lack of progress.  Some say police haven't given the cases top priority because the women were prostitutes.
     they say their loved ones are real people with names and histories and relatives who care about them.  Janet Henry has a 14-year-old daughter in McBride, B.C., who travels to Vancouver to help her aunt put up posters of her missing mother.  Deborah Jardine, the mother of 28-year-old Angela Jardine who's been missing since November, 1998, spends one day a week making telephone calls to police, social workers and Angela's friends from her home in Sparwood, B.C.   Sarah deVries, 29, has two brothers, a sister and two young children.  Ms. deVries vanished from a street corner one morning last April.  No one has heard from her since.
     "If 20 UBC students went missing over the same period of time, there would be mayhem," said Maggie deVries, Sarah's older sister.  "There would be searches and media interest and rewards."
     She was particularly angered when Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen recently offered a $100,000 reward to help solve a recent spate of garage break-ins.
     Ms. deVries said she is frustrated by police reluctance to say definitely that a crime has taken place.  She thinks a reward would help jar the memory of a witness.  "it makes me so angry.   (Mayor) Owen said, "Think of the trauma for the people involved (in the garage break-ins).'  Well, think of the trauma of losing your sister and then not knowing what happened to her."
     At first, police didn't know what to make of the disappearances, nor whether to even deem the women as missing.   Compared with most of the population, a prostitutes life is unpredictable.   It's not unknown for some of them to not be seen or heard from for long periods of time.
     And when a prostitute is considered missing, she can be hard to find.  Few leave a paper trail of friends in address books.
     But as the tally of missing women grew, police and relatives suspected foul play.  The problem is there hasn't been a shred of evidence to warrant a murder investigation.  "There are no bodies, no tips, nothing," said Detective Constable Lori Shenher, who was assigned to the cases last July.
     The lack of physical evidence---no traces of ripped clothing, no reports of a push-and-pull scene outside a car---suggests there were no struggles.  If the women were abducted, it's possible they knew and trusted the abductor.
     Last year, one of the missing women, Ada Prevost, surfaced at a state mental hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., under an assumed name.  Her reappearance bolstered the theory that the missing women were a shiftless, unpredictable group, prone to unexplained disappearances and sudden reappearance's.
     Police don't think that anymore, mainly because the ranks of missing prostitutes keep swelling.  Since January, two more have vanished.
     Eight months into her investigation, Det. Constable Shenher has yet to come upon a promising lead.  Soon, she will have interviewed every available witness, friend and relative.  After that, she's unsure how to keep the investigation alive.
     She said the only tangible clues the women left were a trail of worried family members and friends.  Interviews with them persuaded her the missing women didn't move or change identities.
     In fact, the missing women's friends and relatives sensed immediately that something was wrong.
     In Janet Henry's case, she had just cashed a welfare cheque and $100 was sitting in her bank account.  "Janet never kept money in the bank," Ms. Gagnon said.
     And Angela Jardine failed to pick up some Christmas parcels her mother had mailed.  Ms. Jardine had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, her mother said.  She became excited about every holiday, just like a child, and had telephoned her mother several times to ask if the presents were on there way.  The gift parcels are still sitting in a social worker's office.
     Det. Constable Shenher defended the Vancouver Police's handling of the missing women, arguing the force has done its best with the little evidence available.  She is convinced someone knows something about the women.  That person is either the perpetrator or a friend of the perpetrator.
     Meanwhile, Ms, Gagnon is beginning to accept her sister is gone for good.  Ms. Gagnon recalls that whenever a song by her favourite singer, Roch Voisine, was playing on the radio, her sister would phone to tell her to switch on her set.
     Now, whenever Ms. Gagnon hears Roch Voisine, she expects the phone to ring and to hear her  sister's voice.   "I just burst into tears, and cry and cry."  

   

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016