VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Case requires much higher reward: Mayor Owen.
Wednesday, May 19, 1999
Authorities should be prepared to pay $2 million in rewards to solve the disappearances of 21 women from Vancouver's downtown eastside, Mayor Philip Owen said yesterday.
Owen said it may take a $100,000 reward for each of the women to solve a mystery that has residents of the city's poorest neighbourhood fearing a serial killer.
Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh has agreed to put up 70 per cent of a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the cases of 21 prostitutes who have vanished since 1995--the most recent in January 1999.
Police have found no bodies and have no suspects.
"We're not going to be able to solve all 21 off them for $100,000," Owen said as he walked briskly amid banners and drummers of a march held in tribute to the women.
A spokeswoman for Dosanjh was shocked at Owen's suggestion.
"That proposal has not been put to the ministry or the minister," said Kate Thompson, noting that ministry staff worked with the city and Vancouver police to agree to a first reward, which was approved at a police board meeting last month.
But Owen said he expects legal departments in Victoria and Vancouver will work out the issue.
"They know what the goal is," he said.
"The families want this. The public wants it. Lawyers are lawyers. They sometimes move a little slowly, but I think this could be worked out."
For Owen, reward is its own justice
Wednesday, May 19, 1999
"We are not talking about reality. We are talking about the opinion of the mayor:" --Const. Anne Drennan
THERE IS PROBABLY NOTHING AS OUT OF control as a teenager filled with raging hormones or a mayor seeking re-election.
I refer you to Philip Owen, Vancouver's current and future mayor, as our case study in pre-election delirium. Most specifically we have his suggestion that the reward for the 21 missing women on the Downtown Eastside be raised to more than $2 million.
(While nothing is being made of this, the city is going ballistic over a $3,000 public investment in cell phones limited to calling 911 to assist women who still work the streets. It seems these women are worth far more to us dead than alive.)
Two weeks ago, Owen blindsided the police department and the police board he chairs to tell the world he supported a $100,000 reward to help solve the disappearances. The city would put up $30,000, and the attorney-general's department would come up with the rest.
The meeting of the police board a few days after Owen's grandstanding was a painful exercise of politics vanquishing pragmatism. The issue of a reward was on the agenda, but it was already a done deal.
The meeting was standing room only, with advocates for the reward filling the front rows. When they rose to speak, they showered Owen with gratitude for his "compassion."
The remaining meeting space was taken up by the media--I counted seven TV cameras--and cops from homicide and missing persons, who were about to become the meat in Owen's re-election sandwich.
Deputy Chief Bryan McGuiness presented a detailed explanation which made the point the police have been making from the outset: a reward in a case like this would hinder more than it would help.
McGuiness detailed what steps the cops have taken and continue to take to track the women, co-ordinating efforts with the RCMP, the FBI and local police forces as far away as New York state and North Carolina. To date, he said, there was no evidence of any crime; there was no crime scene from which to start. Nonetheless, the women's medical, dental or financial records are being circulated.
He also pointed out that some of these women might not want to be found; they are escaping from abusive relationships and intolerable lives. That was certainly the case of one woman the cops turned up in Nanaimo.
As far as a reward was concerned, McGuiness said that when one is offered, police have information about the circumstances of the crime that would only be known to them and a bona fide witness. This could not be the case here. So police fielding calls from folks keen to pick up $100,000 would have no way of knowing how genuine the information was.
Aside from that, and this did manage to slow down our campaigning mayor, what would the reward be for--locating one woman, locating all the women, finding a serial killer--what?
Realizing the quagmire they were about to be dragged into, the police board decided only to approve the $100,000 reward in principle. A team of lawyers would work on the wording.
That team still had its dictionary out last week when Mayor Phil Forever got caught up in the spirit of a memorial service for the missing women. "We're not going to solve all 21 [cases] for $100,000," he declared. Then he added that it might take $100,000 for each woman.
On hearing this, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's ministry was apparently in shock. It sure didn't make Const. Anne Drennan's day either. The usual reward in a single homicide is only $10,000.
I asked her what impact a $2 million reward would have on the investigation. In as politic terms as she could muster, the spokeswoman for the police department suggested that the mayor is nuts: "We are not talking about reality. We are talking about the opinion of the mayor." This is a mayor, in case you haven't noticed, who is seeking re-election.
Updated: August 21, 2016