In the ‘Public Interest’

I attended an interesting conference last week. The conference was focused on legal resources for settlement workers. Where I work we do a lot of settlement work and there are so many facets to it, it was important for me to attend to expand my knowledge. The conference was comprised of smaller workshops on various topics.

I attended a session put on by the Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). On first glance, one would think this is a compelling issue in Canada today.[1] In fact, the OCTIP, with help from the federal government, has put together an 8-hour training session on the issue. These people clearly have money to burn. Their materials are plenty and varied. They have cards, brochures and wallet cards all printed on high-quality paper and cardstock. They talked about people being trafficked for the purpose of sex work, other types of labour and organ procurement. Yes, you read that correctly: organ procurement. Apparently the issue is so dire CIC has created a separate temporary residence status for trafficked person.

I honestly felt like I was in a different world listening to this presentation. They never actually presented a case of a trafficked person. We were presented with a list of things to look for so we could identify a trafficked person.[2] After the presentation, I asked how many cases they have of confirmed trafficking in Canada. The answer is less than 100 in 6 years. I have been working with refugees for almost 4 years and we have never seen a case of a trafficked individual. My next question was how much money has been directed at this problem and neither of the presenters knew the answer! There are 4 full time people in the OCTIP in BC and at least one federal person. That would be 5 FTEs conservatively. If we took an average[3] of their salaries as $55,000, that would mean at minimum they are spending $275,000 per year. This means that each trafficked person costs the system $16,500.

I then attended a presentation on family violence. A crown attorney presented some of the difficulties in prosecuting offenders. At one point, the discussion turned to the Missing Women from the DTES[4] and Robert Pickton. The crown attorney very callously spewed what he thought were the numbers in the case. He said Pickton was charged with 8 or 9 murders and that there were 18 that did not proceed to trial.[5] I could not believe the complete disregard for the women who were killed by Pickton displayed by his comments. As a crown attorney you would think he would know the numbers!

What was even more galling was his explanation as to why Pickton never stood trial on the other 20 murders: it was not in the public interest. What he means by this is that because Pickton is already been sentenced to life in prison for 25 years there is no point in taking him to trial on the other charges. I would ask, exactly, whose public interest is he talking about? Certainly not mine or, I am sure, the victims’ families in this case. I would also point out that if the women had been from Kerrisdale and their skin a little lighter there would most definitely be a ‘public interest’ in proceeding on all charges.

The Missing Women’s Inquiry was supposed to give the families some explanations as to what happened. Instead it has been rife with issues from the beginning. With little to no Aboriginal representation and focusing almost completely on the police and their investigation many advocacy groups and victims’ families have expressed that this forum will not, in any way, address their concerns. If all this isn’t bad enough, there are now allegations surfacing about sexism in the workplace of the Inquiry. Apparently the environment is highly sexualized where women have routinely faced demeaning comments. To make it even worse, as if that is possible, the women didn’t want to make complaints because they are concerned their future job prospects would be compromised.

It is time for the BC provincial government to get its act together. Why have we spent 1.65 million dollars on combatting human trafficking[6] while Aboriginal women die on the DTES? Misogyny (racism and classism too) is so deeply ingrained in our culture that women can’t even get a fair shake trying to improve justice for dead women. I grow increasingly weary the older I get. It just seems to get worse.

[1] I am sure being a trafficked person is very devastating. I am not, in any way, saying this issue is not important.

[2] If you are interested in the signs according to OCTIP:

[3] Their salaries probably range from $40,000-$70,000 a year.

[4] DTES=Downtown Eastside.

[5] Pickton went to court on 7 charges of murder and once was dropped. He was convicted of 6 counts of second-degree murder. He did not go to court on the other 20.

[6] Which are most likely many cases of human smuggling. Not that human smuggling is a good either.

Dispatches from the Swamp – the ‘what a great news day’ edition

Some days are slow and other days are not! Today was a hot news day. So here we go!

  • First up – a BC father and daughter are jailed for a 2 million dollar GST scam. Apparently, the daughter could barely stand as the sentence was read. She received 5 years in jail and her father got a year less due to ill health. I am not sure what good one less year is going to do him. He is 74 and likely won’t survive 4 years in jail. Seriously though if you are going to do the crime you deserve to go to jail.
  • Bev Oda- what an idiot is all I can say. She doesn’t have the courage to deny KAIROS outright instead she does it in a sneaky underhanded way. She should resign and if she doesn’t Harper should fire her. But when does Harper ever do the right thing.
  • Today Phillip Owen apologized to Kim Rossmo for negative comments he made about Rossmo’s work on the Missing Women Case. It is about time that Kim Rossmo get the credit he deserves for the work he did.
  • Germs – I have left the best for last. The CBC did a study that found out that trays in food courts have as much bacteria as a toilet seat. Over the lunch hour there was a call in show about this issue. During this call in, listeners were regaled with everyone’s fears about not touching things that might have germs. It was rather all insane if you ask me. No one talked about the effects of not coming into contact with germs. We need to challenge our immune systems with germs. Totally scary!

Update for the Swamp – the Pond Edition

Today our drainage work started. It has been a long time coming. When we bought the house we knew that there was water in the crawl space under the house. What we didn’t know was that the place was a swamp. We bought the house after about 3 months of sun. It had been very dry so what we saw was a lovely carpet of green grass and everything was nice. The crawl space was mostly dry but you could see that there was mud. The housing inspector told us that we would have to address the drainage issues. Our neighbour, two houses over, has a similar property to ours with large built up homes on either side and had similar drainage issues. He has effectively drained his yard. He is an engineer so he really had a good plan. Apparently as soon as they dug the pond for the front and dug a path for the water to flow the pond filled up completely. There is another pond in the backyard which will drain further to the back. So now we will have a property with 2 water features!

In other news, Wally Oppal has been appointed to head an inquiry into the Missing Women crimes. There have been many naysayers about his appointment but I could not be happier. I think Wally Oppal has distinguished himself as both a judge and a cabinet minister. I never get the sense that he is trying to feed people propaganda when he is interviewed. Perhaps if the provincial government had consulted Aboriginal and Womens’ groups there could have been a different choice or consensus on Oppal. I do think he will do an excellent job at getting to the core issues that led to so many women went missing on the Downtown East Side. Hopefully, this will lead to real and substantial change.

The dogs are good. I have been reveling in how cute they are. Sawyer with his big ears, Zoe getting the fuzzies, Piper’s big eyes and gorgeous face, and Madison’s beauty. Maddie is becoming more and more beautiful the older she gets. I love the feeling I get when we are all snuggled together in bed. Everyone is so quiet, peaceful and contented.

So far the new TV season has been a bust. Tonight we are watching ‘No Ordinary Family,’ wish us luck! Woo hoo! 10 minutes in and it doesn’t suck!!

If there is a god(dess)

Tomorrow we find out how the Supreme Court of Canada is going to rule with regard to Robert William Pickton’s which may result in a new trial Pickton. Apparently some of the families of the victims hope there is a new trial because Pickton was only tried on 6 counts of murder rather than all 26. I hope Pickton does not get a new trial on the 6 charges he has already been convicted. It would be too much for those families who have already gone through a trial. It is time, however, for the families of the other 20 victims get justice for their daughters and sisters.

Missing Women Trial

The verdict is in and he has been found guilty of second degree murder in the deaths of Serena Abbotsway, Mona Wilson, Georgina Papin, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wilson and Marnie Frey. It is a great disappointment that he was not found guilty of first degree murder for at least one of the women. The difference between first and second degree murder is one of intent and planning, surely after 3 or 4 murders there must be intent and planning to continue killing.

I also seriously doubt that he acted alone. All of the stories that abound on the Downtown Eastside about “parties” at “piggies palace” indicate that others likely participated in the abuse and ultimately the murder of women who died on that lonely Port Coquitlam pig farm.

We are now five years since his arrest. There has been no improvement for women on the Downtown Eastside. Many still must work in the survival sex trade where they literally take their lives into their hands. Our women deserve better. If only the level of outrage at the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport. Where are the demands for a public inquiry or a coroner’s inquest for at least one of the missing women? What is it going to take for us, as a society, to not see women as throw away members of society. We must do better.

My only hope is that the second trial continues. The families of those women deserve to know the truth. Perhaps if the truth about the murder of a further 20 women is exposed things will change.