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MAYOR WANTS REWARD TO CRACK CASE OF MISSING PROSTITUTES

The following appears courtesy of todays Canadian Press news wire: IAN BAILEY

     VANCOUVER (CP) - Mayor Philip Owen - disagreeing with city police - wants a reward posted to help find 20 missing women involved in the sex trade. 

     He made the statement Tuesday hours after Vancouver's police spokeswoman said the department opposes the idea of a reward to crack a mystery that's split the city along social lines.

     "I think we should put something up, "Owen said.   "I think it's appropriate, but it's got to be spelled out."

     He said he will back some kind of reward - with tough rules - when the police board meets April 28 and expects his six fellow members will back the idea.  "I think the board will probably go for it," said Owen, who is also police board chairman.

     Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh said earlier Tuesday his ministry would respond "very favourably" to any reward proposal submitted by the board to gain information about the missing women.

     "I am very concerned about the perception that we're not doing enough," he said from Victoria.

     But police spokeswoman Const. Anne Drennan said the force isn't sure the women have vanished as a result of a crime.  "For now, this is a situation that doesn't really lend itself to the reward system as we know it," she said.

     About 20 women involved in the sex trade had vanished from the downtown eastside since 1995, fueling fears in the area that a serial killer or killers are at work.  Police have said there is no evidence at all to support fears of serial killer or killers.

     "There is absolutely nothing that has come to light that indicates there is a killer on the loose," Drennan said.  "We don't have any bodies.  We don't have any witnesses to anything bizarre, with respect to any of these women."

     Many of the women vanished without a trace, leaving behind baffled friends and families.  Their pictures are included in missing persons posters tacked up in parts of the eastside neighbourhood, which sits between touristy Gastown and Chinatown.

     Activists in the poverty - stricken downtown eastside have complained about a double standard of crime fighting.  They note that a pair of $100,000 rewards have been offered to deal with a rash of home invasions and garage robberies elsewhere in the city, but nothing for the women.

     "Apparently lives are worth more on the west side of Vancouver than on the eastside," John Turvey, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, said Tuesday.  Criminologist John Lowman of Simon Fraser University agreed.  "What if this was 30 students or 30 police officers or 30 storekeepers and no bodies were found," he said.  "Would the argument be the same?"

     Lowman said police caution about putting up some money doesn't make any sense.  "No one is going to lose a $100,000 reward if no decent information comes up," said Lowman, who has been researching prostitution for 20 years.

     "I don't understand why you wouldn't let the information forthcoming from the reward be the acid test rather than assuming that the reward won't work." 

     Drennan said investigators have been confounded because the missing women have led chaotic lives that make them difficult to trace.  Police have suggested that some of the missing women may have moved to other parts of Canada or the United States, suggesting that prostitutes are in a mobile, transitory trade.

     But former prostitute Joanna Russell, who now manages a drop-in centre for prostitutes, disputed that suggestion.  "None of them deserve to be missing," said Russell, who knew five of the women who have vanished.

     "They are dead.  Somebody has murdered them.  I have no doubt."

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Updated: August 21, 2016