Large crowd comes out to remember missing women in Vancouver's Downtown
VANCOUVER, B.C. — More than a thousand people took time off from Olympic
celebrations Sunday to remember women who have gone missing, honouring them with
a march through the city's gritty Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
Every Valentines Day for the last 19 years, family and friends of missing and
murdered women have been marching in memory of their loved ones.
On Sunday, about 1,200 people in Vancouver followed the drumming of female First
Nations elders on the march, a crowd size not reached even in the years after
serial killer Robert Pickton was arrested and convicted for murdering women from
Maggie de Vries' sister Sarah went missing from the Downtown Eastside in 1998.
She told the media before the march began that the Olympics allows them to shine
a spot light on what still needs to be done to protect women in the
"I think it is an opportunity, having international media here in the city right
now means that today is that day that can put greater pressure on our government
to take steps," she said. "We're asking for a commitment to a public inquiry as
soon as one is possible."
Many of the women who went missing were prostitutes or drug addicts, as Sarah de
Maggie de Vries said the police ignored the cases of the missing until there was
too much pressure to avoid an investigation any longer.
"They were a group we, as a society, don't see as human. When they went missing
there were just so many things done wrong and such a lack of initiative for a
The government has said there won't be a public inquiry into the police response
until after Pickton exhausts all possibility of appeal, but de Vries said
British Columbia's attorney general could at least give the relatives of the
missing women a commitment that an inquiry will be held.
Corinthia Kelly, who works with women in the neighbourhood, said women,
especially First Nations, still go missing every week.
"Aboriginal women in our society are perceived - as they have been ever since
Europeans first came here - perceived to be disposable."
Police don't investigate the disappearances of First Nations women in the same
way and that's why women are allowed to disappear without an investigation,
Karen Williams stood in the middle of the noisy crowd, clutching a stack of
flyers with her sister's picture and handing them out to anyone who would listen
to the story of Alberta Gail Williams.
She said her sister was working in Prince Rupert, on the northwest B.C. coast,
when she vanished in 1989. Her family knew immediately that something was wrong,
but Williams said police didn't believe them.
One month and one day after she disappeared, her body was found by hikers in the
woods. No one has ever been charged.
"Give us some justice," she said as tears rolled down her face. "We've been
waiting too long, this Williams family, nearly 20 years."
Many of the more than 60 women who have vanished from the Downtown Eastside have
never been found and Williams concedes that at least her family knows what
happened to Alberta.
"At least we had a chance to bury her," she said. "But I still want my sister's
name to be a household name."
Pickton was originally charged with killing 26 women, but the trial judge
divided the case in two. After a long trial, he was convicted of six murders.
His appeal is sitting before the Supreme Court of Canada. The provincial
government has said if Pickton loses his appeal, it won't go ahead with the
remaining 20 charges.
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