VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Silence of the Streets
WESTENDER-VANCOUVER'S URBAN VOICE, April 22, 1999
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Pressure builds to recognize missing women--Family members, police board approach mystery of missing sex trade workers from opposite sides of the spectrum, By: Mary Frances Hill
Angela comes in to "Grandma's House, a safehouse for prostitutes in the Downtown Eastside, and Jamie Lee Hamilton and Adrian Cormier are more relieved to see her now than ever.
She hasn't shown up for two weeks. Naturally, they worried. They thought she'd be the next to disappear.
Angela (not her real name) wears an old ski jacket, boots up to her knees, and a tartan mini-skirt reminiscent of a Catholic school uniform.
She confidently makes her way to the small kitchen, and rifles through a bag of tortilla chips.
Why hasn't she come by, dropped in, said hello, as she did almost every night?, Hamilton asks her.
Been busy, Angela says and nothing more.
It's a relief to finally see Angela safe, Hamilton, the director of Grandma's house and staffer Cormier are thinking about the 23 prostitutes reported missing in the past year.
But her sudden appearance at Grandma's House illustrates just how difficult it is to keep track of the whereabouts of prostitutes, and how easily the 23 disappeared without a trace.
To keep track of the young women who turn tricks nearby, Grandma's House and the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society have organized programs that list the personal details of working street prostitutes, should they be found injured or dead.
Twenty-five names sit on the list so far. Grandma's House, which calls its program Safelink, also offers prostitutes the use of our-of-service cell phones to use in case of danger.
Though the phones are mostly inoperable, calls to 911 reach police as they would through a working phone. In the meantime, Hamilton and other Downtown Eastside advocates have been pushing the city and the police for the last two months to offer a reward for information leading to a conviction of the person or persons responsible for the disappearances. They've had little success so far.
Mayor Philip Owen, who sits as a member of the Vancouver Police Board, says there's no concrete evidence of a crime committed, and it's not likely police will offer a reward, when the board discusses the cases Wednesday.
The meeting is open to the public, and will be held at 2120 Cambie St., seventh floor boardroom, 2 p.m.
In an open letter to Owen, Vancouver-East MP Libby Davies takes offence that the city and police immediately offered a reward for the conviction of a West Side home invader, while, she alleges, they're stalling on action to solve the case of the missing women.
"We don't even know if (the prostitutes) have met with foul play," says Owen.
"You generally put a reward up when you say, 'I think there's a particular person here and they live in Vancouver and we've got the description and a composite drawing of them."
"There's people missing all over the place. It's not as though it was some world issue that's unique."
Owen suggests a woman could show up a few months after she'd been declared missing--in which case posting a reward makes little sense.
The lifestyles of street prostitutes are often unpredictable, without regularity, says John Turvey, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society.
They're surrounded by more strangers than friends. Many have been disowned or lost contact with family altogether. They leave few ties to acquaintances.
Sarah deVries is one exception. She and her sister Maggie spoke to each other every day before Sarah, a drug addict and prostitute went missing last August.
Today, when Maggie speaks of her sister and other disappeared women, she refers to them not so much as the disappeared, but as bodies.
"I do know virtually for a fact that my sister has been murdered," says deVries, who's organized a memorial in the women's honor, to be held May 12 (see details below). DeVries will also appear in a delegation before the police board Wednesday.
Turvey says he understands that the transient lives of prostitutes make the task of finding them especially difficult for police. But the police department could take other actions, he adds, like place more officers in the Downtown Eastside at night. The city could offer safe, accessible beds in new detox centres.
"If we had a greater presence that would possibly reduce the possibilities of victimization. Simple meat-and-potatoes action could be the remedy."
But deVries, who says she admires the police work already done on her sister's case, is still stumped over what to do.
"I don't know what the answers are. I never knew what the answers were for Sarah. I was never able to help her."
FAMILY, FRIENDS, MOURN WOMEN
Sarah deVries' two small children rarely visit Vancouver, the city where their mother went missing last year. But they'll travel from Ontario with their grandmother from Ontario on Wednesday, May 12 to attend a memorial for Sarah, a troubled woman they hardly knew.
Maggie deVries, Sarah's sister, has organized the ceremony for Sarah and the other women declared missing from the Downtown Eastside. Friends and family will gather at First United church for a private memorial, and walk toward Crab Park, where a public ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. to commemorate a bench dedicated to the women who've disappeared.
Though there's no evidence that Sarah or the others have been murdered, the deVries family sees in the ceremony a sense of closure.
"I had two friends die last year (before Sarah disappeared)," says deVries. "I went to their memorial services, and I found out how important that process was. That's one of the things that has been taken from us in these circumstances, because we don't know what happened."
31 women missing
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Updated: August 21, 2016