By The Canadian Press - Friday, May 17, 2013 - 0 Comments
VANCOUVER – The former lieutenant governor appointed to oversee the B.C. government’s response to…
VANCOUVER – The former lieutenant governor appointed to oversee the B.C. government’s response to the Robert Pickton inquiry has resigned over concerns about a lawsuit filed by children of the serial killer’s victims.
Steven Point wrote the province’s attorney general, saying he cannot continue as chair of the advisory committee while a lawsuit is before the courts.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond says the concern is that any comments Point makes in his position could become evidence in the civil case.
Bond says the lawsuit will also affect the government’s ability to implement the recommendations from the public inquiry, released last December.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 7:36 PM - 0 Comments
VANCOUVER – The children of four women whose remains were found on Robert Pickton’s…
VANCOUVER – The children of four women whose remains were found on Robert Pickton’s property have filed lawsuits against the police and Pickton himself, demanding compensation for the failed murder investigation and a chance to confront the serial killer in court.
The daughters and sons of Dianne Rock, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Feliks and Yvonne Boen each filed separate lawsuits Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court, targeting the provincial government on behalf of the RCMP, the City of Vancouver on behalf the city’s police force, a number of police officers, Pickton, and two of his siblings.
The statements of claim allege numerous failures on the part of Vancouver police and the RCMP, including that both forces botched their investigations into dozens of missing sex workers from the Downtown Eastside and failed to warn women in the neighbourhood that a serial killer was likely targeting women in the area. In addition, the statements say the Crown failed to prosecute Pickton for attempted murder after an attack on a sex worker in 1997, putting other women in danger.
Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
After Pickton lost his appeals for those convictions, charges related to 20 other women, including Rock, de Vries and Feliks, were stayed by the Crown. Boen is among six women whose remains or DNA were found on the Pickton property but for which no charges were ever laid.
Boen’s and Feliks’ children allege they were harmed by the insensitive manner in which they were informed of their mother’s deaths. Boen’s children say the first they heard of their mother’s death was in news reports. Feliks’ daughter says at first she was only told police had found her mother’s DNA on the farm, but she didn’t learn until much later that Feliks’ DNA had been found in packaged meat in a freezer.
The lawsuits also target Pickton’s brother and sister, David and Linda — David for allegedly lying for his brother during the attempted murder investigation in 1997 and both for allowing the killings to happen on a property they owned together with Robert.
The statements of claim, which contain unproven allegations, borrow heavily from a public inquiry report released last December, which outlined a litany of devastating failures within both the Vancouver police and the RCMP and recommended compensation for the children of Pickton’s victims.
“The VPD and RCMP owed and breached a duty of care to Yvonne, as a member of the public and as an individual within a group at heightened risk of harm from a serial killer and at heightened risk of harm from Robert Pickton to warn Yvonne of the risk to her safety,” says the statement of claim filed by Boen’s two sons, Tory and Joel.
“Notwithstanding their knowledge of the risk to sex workers, VPD and RCMP failed to assign adequate or sufficient resources to investigate Robert Pickton or a serial killer or to protect Yvonne or the other missing women.”
The Vancouver police, the City of Vancouver and the RCMP each declined to comment. The Vancouver police and the RCMP have each offered public apologies for their failure to catch Pickton earlier.
B.C.’s Justice Ministry provided a statement detailing its response to a public inquiry but did not respond to the lawsuit. A lawyer who represented the Picktons in an unrelated lawsuit involving their property couldn’t be reached.
David Pickton, reached by phone, interrupted a reporter reading the allegations that he lied for his brother.
“What?” Pickton said. “I don’t know nothing about it, no comment,” he continued, before hanging up.
Jason Gratl, the lawyer representing the family members, said in addition to financial compensation, the case could also provide the families with a chance to force Pickton to answer for his crimes. Pickton has repeatedly denied any involvement, despite the mountain of evidence against him.
“Unlike the criminal context, where Pickton has the right to remain silent, in the civil context there is no right to silence, and Robert Pickton will have to answer for his crimes,” Gratl said in an interview.
The public inquiry spent months hearing evidence detailing why the police failed to act as women in the Downtown Eastside disappeared in alarming numbers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Commissioner Wally Oppal released a report last December that made 63 recommendations, including financial compensation for children of the missing women and a “healing fund” for the women’s families.
Gratl said the provincial government, the City of Vancouver, the RCMP and the Vancouver police have all failed to take any steps to address the issue of compensation.
“The city and the province have allowed Mr. Oppal’s recommendation for compensation for children of the missing women to languish,” said Gratl.
“The lawsuit aims to provide the city and the province with yet another opportunity to do the right thing and provide these children with a leg up.”
The lawsuits, and the complaints that the province has failed to address the issue of compensation, come in the midst of a provincial election campaign that has so far paid little attention to the issue of missing women and Oppal’s recommendations.
The governing Liberals and the Opposition New Democrats have each said they would address Oppal’s recommendations, but have not provided any specifics. When asked directly about the compensation issue on Thursday, each party leader offered only vague answers.
Liberal Premier Christy Clark said she hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on a case that’s before the courts. She noted her government appointed former lieutenant governor Stephen Point to oversee the province’s response to Oppal’s report.
“We’ll get a chance to look at some of those issues (after the election),” Clark said at a campaign stop in the northern B.C. Community of Burns Lake.
“It was a terrible tragedy, not just for the women and their families, but for all of us in such a wealthy society to think that women who were so vulnerable were left unsafe.”
Clark’s attorney general, Shirley Bond, referred comment back to the Justice Ministry. The ministry provided a statement that outlined several things the government has done to respond to Oppal’s report without referring to the issue of compensation.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix, likewise, had no specifics to offer, largely ignoring the compensation issue when asked about it in Vancouver.
“Our intention is to work with the families to see the report implemented,” Dix said in Vancouver.
“There is a series of things the families want — those are only part (of the report). I think the recommendations in that report are very good and we need to work to implement them and we will.”
Pickton was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on Pickton’s property in Port Coquitlam. He once told an undercover police officer that he killed a total of 49.
— With files from Vivian Luk in Vancouver and Dene Moore in Burns Lake, B.C.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly said Robert Pickton was convicted of first-degree murder.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 2:48 PM - 0 Comments
VANCOUVER – The children of four missing women whose remains were found on serial…
VANCOUVER – The children of four missing women whose remains were found on serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm have launched legal action looking for compensation.
The daughters and sons of Dianne Rock, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Feliks and Yvonne Boen have filed separate lawsuits in B.C. Supreme Court, targeting the provincial government, the City of Vancouver, Robert Pickton and his brother Dave and their sister Linda.
The statements of claim alleges numerous failures on the part of Vancouver police, RCMP and Crown prosecutors, including that police didn’t warn women in the Downtown Eastside that a serial killer may have been targeting women in the area. Continue…
By Ken MacQueen - Monday, December 17, 2012 at 9:14 PM - 0 Comments
After two years, dozens of witnesses, 1,500 pages and $10M, report does little to satisfy families of Pickton’s victims
It is one of life’s enduring mysteries that about six Vancouver city blocks down Hastings Street from the rich wood panelling, gleaming granite and fine carpets of the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, women are climbing into cars with strangers to sell their bodies for a $10-rock of crack cocaine. That they vanish into streets and alleys, into single-room occupancy hotels, into emergency shelters. That even today, with the infamous predator Robert Pickton in jail this past decade, women still sometimes vanish into the ether—their photographs posted on shelter bulletin boards and flapping from telephone poles in the city’s notorious Downtown East Side.
They are lost to the families, in many cases, lost to society. They are the “Forsaken” as retired B.C. Appeal court justice Wally Oppal titled his five-volume report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, released Monday during a chaotic, tear-filled event at the Wosk Centre.
Outside the centre, First Nations people sang and drummed and held dozens of sheets of paper, each with a name and a picture of a women missing or dead. There was Sherry Irving, and Samantha Belcourt and a woman named Mary Ann Clark, who lacked even a photo to accompany her name, as though she passed invisible through this life.
Inside the centre, Oppal stood before a news conference packed with journalists, family members and advocacy groups, ready to share the results of an inquiry that seemed doomed from its inception in September 2010.
It was born in controversy and cynicism to investigate the utter failure for years of the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP to recognize that the women vanishing from the neighbourhood were being slaughtered by Pickton, a simple-minded pig farmer from Port Coquitlam, B.C.
After two years, 93 hearing days, dozens of witnesses, 1,500 pages and $10- million dollars, the report seems to have done little to satisfy the aggrieved families of Pickton’s victims: the six he is convicted of murdering, the 27 others whose DNA evidence was found on his farm, and of the dozens more who fell victim to unknown predators.
It took exactly eight words from Oppal’s prepared statement— “The story of the missing and murdered women” — before the first attacks came from families and their advocates. “It’s not a story,” someone shouted. “It’s reality,” shouted another. “The Bible is a story,” added another heckler.
Oppal, stone-faced, pressed on, wearing his heart on his sleeve, calling the murders “a tragedy of epic proportions,” telling audience members this was “an emotional day, a challenging day for each family member.” He credited the dedication of family members “who continue to demand justice for their loved one” for causing this inquiry to be called. “I believe everyone connected with this inquiry has the same goal, to make the changes necessary to help keep our most vulnerable citizens safe and to stop the violence, to stop the violence against all women …”
“Hogwash,” shouted a heckler. And on it went for more than an hour, Oppal doing his best to lay out the report’s key findings to a crowd that had little interest in listening.
He spoke of the ineffective police co-ordination between Vancouver and the RCMP. He described the “systemic bias” that caused the police to dismiss as runaways the women, most of them drug addicted sex-trade workers, many of them aboriginal, even as the numbers piled into the dozens. He condemned the failure of Coquitlam RCMP to press an investigation and a Crown prosecutor to proceed with charges against Pickton in 1997 after he almost killed a drug-addled prostitute the inquiry called “Miss Anderson.” Had Pickton been charged then, rather than five years later many lives would have been saved, Oppal said.
“Why did it take so long for action?” Oppal asked.
From the back of the room came the sound of drums. Audience members rose, then singing and chanting filled the room. It was more than four minutes before it petered out and Oppal could continue. Some family members and dissident native groups who’d loudly proclaimed their voices weren’t heard during the inquiry showed little inclination to listen today.
Oppal pressed on through hisses and boos and sarcastic asides. There were muttered claims of racism. Some family of the murdered women tried to quiet the crowd, but with little success. The anger was deep, the cynicism engrained after years of police and government indifference. Others seemed mired in a learned helplessness. “You know what they don’t have for us is Kleenex,” a woman in the audience muttered in disgust, as though the thought of providing her own was beyond the pale. Those who boycotted the hearings because of a government refusal to offer legal representation claimed they were shut out of the hearings. Yet they seemed more than capable Monday of making their feelings known without a lawyer at their side.
There were more than 60 recommendations. Among them:
- a provincial compensation fund for the children of missing and murdered women;
- a healing fund for families;
- “equality audits” to ensure the police and Crown lawyers deal fairly with marginalized women;
- better training for those in police and justice positions to learn “the history and current status of Aboriginal peoples in the provinces;”
- better programs to prevent violence against missing women, and to enhance services in the Downtown Eastside.
The overarching recommendation was for a regional police force to replace the hodgepodge of municipal police and RCMP detachments in the Lower Mainland. As Oppal rightly noted, it is a common denominator of failed serial killer investigations, from Pickton to Clifford Olson to Paul Bernardo, that key evidence often falls between the jurisdictional cracks.
Ironically, Oppal had recommended a regional police force during a previous police inquiry he headed in 1994 — to no avail. Nor was there action to regionalize policing when Oppal served as attorney general in Gordon Campbell’s provincial Liberal government. And the odds of a move to regional policing now? Unlikely. The province has just signed a 20-year municipal policing contract with the RCMP.
Perhaps good things may yet come from the inquiry. But as Oppal’s presentation Monday ended in anger, recrimination and tears, there didn’t seem much to celebrate. And down Hastings Street, and in the alleys, it was business as usual.
By James Keller - Monday, December 17, 2012 at 9:59 AM - 0 Comments
What happened, who’s to blame and what must be done
VANCOUVER – Families who lost daughters, mothers and sisters to serial killer Robert Pickton have long known police failed them as the former pig farmer hunted for victims in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and lured them back to his property.
But a lengthy public inquiry report to be released today will attempt to answer the more difficult question of why two police forces were unable — or unwilling — to connect the dots that led from missing sex workers in Vancouver to a farm in nearby Port Coquitlam, B.C.
Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal is scheduled to release his final report on how Vancouver police and the RCMP responded to reports of missing women and why it took them so long to finally stop Pickton, who was arrested in February 2002 — several years after investigators first received tips implicating him. Continue…
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 7:46 PM - 0 Comments
VANCOUVER – The families of the women Robert Pickton plucked from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside…
VANCOUVER – The families of the women Robert Pickton plucked from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside will finally see the results from a public inquiry on Dec. 17 — more than a decade after the serial killer’s arrest — but the release of the final report will likely do little to satisfy critics who have dismissed the process as flawed.
Commissioner Wally Oppal’s final report will be made public on the afternoon of Dec. 17, while the families of missing and murdered women who had standing at the hearings will have a copy four hours before that, according to a letter that was distributed to those families on Thursday.
Oppal will make a presentation that day that will be streamed live over the Internet.
Oppal heard from 80 witnesses between October 2011 and June of this year, including relatives of Pickton’s victims, current and former police officers, Crown prosecutors, sex trade workers, advocates, and academics, among others. He handed in his 1,448-page report last month after several deadline extensions.
The report is expected to detail why the Vancouver police and the RCMP failed to catch Pickton, despite receiving evidence years before his February 2002 arrest linking him to the disappearance of sex workers, and make recommendations to prevent history from repeating itself.
But his findings will likely be scrutinized through the lens of the harsh criticism the inquiry has faced since its inception.
A long list of critics, including the victims’ families and advocacy groups, have argued the inquiry’s terms of reference were too narrow because they were primarily focused on the role of police and prosecutors rather than examining why the women ended up in the Downtown Eastside — impoverished and many addicted to drugs — in the first place.
They said Oppal, a former provincial attorney general, was too connected with the current Liberal government to be impartial, and they complained the inquiry ended too quickly without hearing important pieces of evidence. Those concerns prompted a number of advocacy groups that had received participant status to boycott the inquiry.
Last month, even before Oppal handed in his report, several groups that boycotted the hearings held a news conference denouncing the document, sight unseen.
Lawyers for the victims’ families have bluntly wrote off the inquiry as an abject failure, though they continued to participate in the hearings.
Even before the details of the report were released, Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn’s DNA was found on Pickton’s farm, sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark over his concerns that families wouldn’t be included in the public event on Dec. 17.
Neither the letter sent to families nor a news release issued Thursday offered any details about the actual event or whether families will be invited to attend. Attorney General Shirley Bond did not make herself available for an interview Thursday, and a ministry spokesman was unable to clear up those details.
The province covered expenses for family members who attended the hearings in Vancouver.
Oppal has repeatedly pleaded with his critics to work with him and asked them to reserve their judgment until they actually see the report.
His recommendations will likely focus on how police should investigate major cases that spread across jurisdictions, particularly those involving serial killers and sex workers. Oppal has already suggested he’ll recommend improvements to services for prostitutes in the Downtown Eastside, including a drop-in centre for survival sex workers.
The inquiry heard allegations that police officers and civilian workers with the Vancouver police and the RCMP in Port Coquitlam, where Pickton lived, ignored reports of missing sex workers and failed to put together evidence implicating Pickton. There were allegations that some of those failures were the result of racism and sexism.
The Vancouver police and the RCMP have each offered qualified apologies, admitting they didn’t do enough to catch Pickton but insisting their officers did the best they could with the information they had.
Instead, the two police forces focused on shifting blame to one another. The Vancouver police said the RCMP botched its investigation into Pickton, while the RCMP said Vancouver police failed to notice a serial killer was operating in their own city.
Police received the first tips implicating Pickton in the murder of Downtown Eastside sex workers in 1998, but he wasn’t arrested until February 2002, when RCMP officers armed with a search warrant related to illegal firearms raided his farm in Port Coquitlam.
Pickton was subsequently convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, where he remains today.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm. He once told an undercover police officer that he killed 49.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 6:40 AM - 0 Comments
An exclusive poll reveals who Canadians consider the country’s worst criminals
Fame may be fleeting, but infamy endures. Karla Homolka recently came back into public view when journalist Paula Todd tracked her down in the Caribbean, revealing that the killer is now a mother of three. Around the same time, a controversial eight-month-long inquiry into the case of serial killer Robert Pickton wrapped up, with the families of the murdered women now waiting on the final report. In these ways and others, cases that grabbed headlines and shook the nation so many years ago never really go away.
Maclean’s has delved into its 107-year archive to refocus on some of the most intriguing and disturbing crime stories from our country’s history. As part of that special project, we asked Canadians to tell us who they consider to be the country’s worst criminals. It’s a short list of unspeakable horrors and unimaginable depravity, and in the end, the only difference is by degrees. Paul Bernardo and Homolka, convicted of abducting and killing two Ontario schoolgirls in the early 1990s, still loom large in the public imagination with 73 per cent of respondents to an exclusive Maclean’s/Angus Reid Public Opinion survey offering up their names. Pickton, the B.C. pig farmer found guilty in 2007 of the murders of six women, who once confessed to killing 43 more, was cited by 61 per cent. And Clifford Olson, who died in prison in 2011 while serving life sentences for the rapes and murders of 11 young people at the beginning of the 1980s, was identified by 44 per cent. Continue…
By Alex Ballingall - Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
Investigator suspected Pickton as early as 1998
New testimony at the Pickton inquiry suggests police organizations bungled the investigations that eventually led to the arrest and convictions of serial killer Robert Pickton. Detective Constable Lori Shenher of the Vancouver Police broke down at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry as she recounted how her suspicions about Pickton went unheeded by her superiors. Shenher had worked for the VPD on its missing women file between 1998 and 2000, a period in which Pickton went from being a “person of interest” to a “prime suspect.” Thirteen more women went missing between 1999 and 2002, when Pickton was finally arrested. Investigators found DNA belonging to 11 of them on his farm.
Shenher told the inquiry that, between 1998 and 2000, she was the only person assigned to missing people during at the VPD, and worked mostly alone. But she still managed to ascertain that a serial killer could be stalking downtown Vancouver streets, and that it might be Pickton. “I thought ‘Bingo, this is the guy we’re looking for,’ ” she said.
When officers finally went after Pickton in 2002, Shenher said her guilt made her hope he wasn’t responsible. “If it had been someone really tricky or skilled, I could have handled that, but … it was this person that was so in my sights the whole time,” she said.
In December 2007, Pickton was convicted of six counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years .
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, November 25, 2011 at 5:56 PM - 3 Comments
As many as 14 actual or suspected Pickton victims were killed in the meantime
The allegations, by Cpl. Catherine Galliford, once the high-profile RCMP spokesperson for the Pickton and Air India investigations, were first revealed in a story in Maclean’s Nov. 28 issue, A Royal Canadian Disgrace. The story was based on interviews with Galliford, and on the 115-page transcript of a statement she gave senior RCMP officers in April. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis and Ken MacQueen - Friday, November 18, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 75 Comments
What will it take before someone fixes the iconic force?
A sleep-deprived Catherine Galliford is running on adrenalin and ragged nerves after a wild week that saw the RCMP corporal rock her employer with claims that she was sexually harassed and bullied by senior officers, even as she served as the spokesperson for two of the biggest investigations in the force’s history. Galliford was calm and competent on camera as the public face of the RCMP’s investigations into the Air India bombings that claimed 329 lives, and serial murders committed by Robert Pickton on his Port Coquitlam pig farm. But while Galliford’s allegations of harassment reached as far as the House of Commons this week, one of her most explosive claims is only now being made public. Galliford says the rampant sexism within the ranks of the RCMP that ruined her health and career may also have contributed to the mismanagement of the Pickton murder investigation, at a cost of many lives.
Galliford said during an internal affairs meeting with RCMP staff this April that a senior officer “did nothing” with information that could have broken open the Pickton murders more than two years before his arrest, and attributed the flawed investigation to sexist attitudes and misogyny. In two extended interviews with Maclean’s this week, she said her examination of a ﬁle from the Coquitlam RCMP, with information dating as far back as 1997, showed the force had more than enough information by the late 1990s to obtain a warrant to search the Pickton property. Instead, surveillance on the farm was curtailed, indicative, she says, of the “indifference” that marked the investigation of the disappearance of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and a “misogynist” attitude toward women.
She said in October 2001 she read an RCMP file dealing with the Pickton farm as she briefed herself on her assignment with the missing women’s task force. “I had one of those ‘oh, no’ moments because I saw what was already on the file. There was enough evidence there for another ITO (information to obtain a search warrant),” she said. She said the file included evidence of guns on the site of the farm, as well as women’s clothing, government identification and an asthma inhaler later tied to one of Pickton’s victims. Yet, she said there was only a cursory attempt at surveillance, which was cut short because it was impossible to see activity at Pickton’s trailer, which was set back far from the road.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
The Citizen‘s Dan Gardner is impatient with the columnists cawing against Justice Susan Himel’s prostitution ruling. This morning he exasperatedly tweeted at them that “You don’t have to agree. You do have to read”—that is, read what Himel wrote. I’m on Dan’s side in this debate, but, hey, isn’t he being a little unfair and obnoxious? Surely respectable writers like Daphne Bramham wouldn’t denounce the Himel decision in such strong terms without examining the evidence:
If prostitution were a job freely chosen, as the pro-legalization forces would have us believe, it’s unlikely that the average age of entry into that workforce would be 14.
Damn, I guess Dan was right after all. This soundbite is a poor choice for an opening salvo against Himel, since it came up specifically in her hearing of the evidence from supporters of the existing law [emphasis mine]:
I find that Drs. Raymond and Poulin were more like advocates than experts offering independent opinions to the court. At times, they made bold, sweeping statements that were not reflected in their research. For example, some of Dr. Raymond’s statements on prostitutes were based on her research on trafficked women. As well, during cross-examination, it was revealed that some of Dr. Poulin’s citations for his claim that the average age of recruitment into prostitution is 14 years old were misleading or incorrect. In his affidavit, Dr. Poulin suggested that there have been instances of serial killers targeting prostitutes who worked at indoor locations; however, his sources do not appear to support his assertion. I found it troubling that Dr. Poulin stated during cross-examination that it is not important for scholars to present information that contradicts their own findings (or findings which they support).
Himel’s judgment gives the impression that she carefully scrutinized and weighted the massive body of evidence before her; Bramham, by contrast, uses cherry-picked stats in a way that recalls the old proverb about the drunk and the lamppost. Indeed, her column is such an impossibly confused piece of argument that one is tempted to think the drunkenness literal.
Like other critics of Himel, Bramham sneers at the idea that selling sex can possibly constitute an exercise of “choice”; you know this, she suggests, because you wouldn’t want your sister to be a prostitute. Well, I sure as hell wouldn’t want my sister to be a columnist at a Postmedia newspaper; I did that job, and, given my sister’s other options, the uncertainty and meagre pay certainly wouldn’t maximize her happiness or her income. It’s nonsensical to criticize someone’s means of earning a living from the standpoint that she could just presumably go be a master mariner or an accountant tomorrow if she didn’t have an imaginary gun to her head.
We are all trying to get by within a context of skills, credentials, abilities, and tastes, and these things are limited by our life experiences (particularly the horrible ones) and our inherent endowments. This is not the prostitute’s condition; it is the human condition. Sneering comments about the meaning and value of choice don’t reflect well on any commentator’s realism.
They’re especially odious when realism is precisely what those commentators claim to be advocating. Bramham writes: “Selling sex is dehumanizing and soul-destroying to most of the people who do it. That’s not a moral judgment. It’s fact.” This couldn’t be more embarrassing if she’d shouted “SCIENCE!” instead, could it? Has this soul-destruction been quantified by a graduate student? Is there an SI unit of dehumanization? Or is the columnist simply reluctant to admit that there might, in fact, be some irrational prejudices and scolding Methodist ghosts swirling around in her hindbrain?
Oh, not possible: Bramham eventually comes around to advocating the progressive, presumptively sex-positive “Nordic model” of prostitution—having either forgotten or never realized that the crux of the Nordic model is decriminalization of the supply side of the sex trade. It’s the pre-Himel law that’s inconsistent with the Nordic model! As Himel’s decision points out!
In Sweden, where prostitution is approached as an aspect of male violence against women and children, buying sex and pimping are illegal, but the seller of sexual services is seen as a victim and not criminalized. Public education campaigns targeting buyers of sexual services have reduced demand. Intensive police training has led to a 300 per cent increase in arrests and a reduction of complaints that the law is too difficult to enforce.
This evidence suggests to me that Canada’s prohibition of all public communications for the purpose of prostitution is no longer in step with changing international responses. These legal regimes demonstrate that legislatures around the world are turning their minds to the protection of prostitutes, as well as preventing social nuisance. The communicating provision impairs the ability of prostitutes to communicate in order to minimize their risk of harm and, as such, does not constitute a minimal impairment of their rights.
I don’t mean to pick on Daphne Bramham in particular; she’s just the latest target to pop up, and the faults in her rhetoric, enormous and fatal though they are, don’t descend to the level of Barbara Kay, who is sure that legalizing prostitution today means she’ll be clapped in irons for being agin it tomorrow. Still, at least my friend Barbara is upfront about not giving a fig about any harm done to prostitutes by the law. I was criticized a little bit last week for suggesting that opponents of the Himel ruling, people who don’t like to entertain arguments about “harm”, should logically regard serial killers as Dexter-esque defenders—perhaps distasteful but in a sense admirable—of the social order they value so highly. I’m afraid this implication is hardly even disguised by Mrs. Kay: in her first column on Himel she brings up Robert Pickton explicitly, mentions in a flat, neutral way that his murder spree “seem to have been a strong motivation for [Himel's] decision”, and goes on to dismiss the question of “harm” willy-nilly. You’re left to infer her feelings about Pickton: she doesn’t take an explicit position. I think I know that she would oppose his particular species of social activism, but given her arguments against harm reduction, I can’t really account for why she would.
Espousal of the Nordic model of supply-side decriminalization is probably more reasonable, and Bramham should be given credit for that, even if the idea collides with absolutely everything else she apparently believes. For myself, I’d prefer it if we could just get past our superstitions about power imbalance in technically victimless exchanges. Our law, in practice, now pretty much treats pot growers as Satan and pot smokers as delusional, lazy unfortunates; suppliers bad, demanders OK. When it comes to prostitution we take the opposite tack: suppliers victims, demanders monsters—though at other times, for no better reason, the reverse approach has prevailed. I’m content to let the Nordic model be judged on a close, unbiased study of its practical effects (and I certainly do believe that policy surrounding prostitution should facilitate, even encourage exit from it), but at root, do all these just-so stories make sense?
My ideology is that it takes two to tango and that people should be allowed to tango. Nobody wants to argue for a man’s right to buy commoditized sex, just as he buys commoditized brainpower (in theory) when he buys the Vancouver Sun or the commoditized sweat of Mexicans when he buys garlic and oranges from California. The anti-prostitution regiment, though it may appear in our minds arrayed in the black bonnets and hoop skirts of our Victorian foremothers, seem to me like nothing more than degraded Marxists or hippies carping about alienation, or about how we don’t deal with each other as real human beings, maaaan. We commoditize each other and are commoditized; that’s where everything that lifts us above the miseries of subsistence farming comes from.
And that’s really pretty OK. Unless you’ve breathed in too much nonsense borrowed from nitwit German philosophizing about “the I and the thou”, you know that capitalist alienation doesn’t prevent civilized persons from forming genuine connections, or acting with decency and kindness, within a client-servant framework. As prostitutes will be the first to tell you. My argument here would probably seem stronger if I had some good, obvious objects of pathos to parade—if, for instance, ex-johns wrote as many blogs and books and news articles as ex-hookers do. But that’s the price of monsterizing the john: people can blather on about how “prostitution is violence” without even having seen or heard of the widowers, the social castoffs, and the deformed and disabled who make up part of pretty much every whore’s clientele. (Whether that whore is male or female.)
This is not to say that a lot of johns aren’t woman-haters: the only question, absolutely the only question, is how best to protect the women. Which brings us back to Bramham. She cites a case, and it is a fantastically rare case, in which a Vancouver “incall” prostitute was murdered by a client in an apartment being used as a massage parlour. (OMG! Another “Craigslist killing”!) But as Bramham presumably understands, many women are killed every year by husbands, boyfriends, and acquaintances under similar circumstances; we probably cannot expect prostitution policy to make sex for pay any safer than sex in general. So how is prostitution relevant to the example at all?
If anything, its relevance would seem to be that there was a record of the man’s internet browsing, a record of the cash transaction, and security-camera images of his arrival at the illicit business. The commercial aspect of his visit is almost certainly the reason he got caught; it’s the only way Bramham is able to give us the exact amount he paid. As an argument that violence against prostitutes can’t be deterred by making indoor security arrangements legal, her anecdatum isn’t just ineffective, it’s self-annihilating.
So, too, is the quote she provides from a UBC law professor who says “says at most the decision might change [prostitution] from ‘an extremely dangerous job to a very dangerous job’.” Here, again, the idea that prostitution should be made safer is just being laughed at. We have a whole universe of occupational health and safety regulations devoted to making extremely dangerous jobs very dangerous, don’t we? Are these rules somehow bad or ridiculous?
A useful exercise in assessing columns about prostitution is to substitute “taxi drivers” for “sex workers” and see how the rhetoric holds up. Driving cab carries the highest risk of violent assault and homicide of any commonly performed lawful profession—higher, easily, than that faced by cops. So imagine Bramham writing “What are the chances, if driving a taxi really were a choice, that so many who choose it are poor, under-educated immigrants or members of minority groups?” Whoa, the demographics check out and everything! Could Bramham find a lawyer to say that it is “naive, disingenuous and dangerous to frame cab driving only in terms of safety, choice and individual autonomy”? I wouldn’t bet against it. A journalist—particularly one who’s a brilliant, tireless reporter—can always find what she has decided to look for.
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 11:01 AM - 0 Comments
The Ontario Superior Court’s Charter finding against prostitution-related provisions of the Criminal Code has unexpectedly cast light on the new Alberta politics. The hard-charging Wildrose Alliance talks a good game when it comes to defending provincial rights; the logical corollary, one might suppose, would be for it to observe a dignified silence about matters reserved to the federal government. This is never how things work, of course, and the Alliance couldn’t move fast enough to issue a joint statement in the names of its two turncoat MLAs, Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson.
Just as the mind of Newton was instantly discernible by contemporaries from his anonymous solution to the brachistochrone problem, so the corresponding organ inside Heather Forsyth is recognizable from the language of the press release. Forsyth never heard an idea for “protecting children” she didn’t like, and certainly never, as an Alberta cabinet minister, implemented one she would recognize as a failure.
“No little girl,” reads the statement, “ever dreams of growing up and becoming a prostitute, and no parent wants to see their child become a sex worker.” As an argument in favour of the existing prostitution laws, this immediately raises the question whether the parents of Robert Pickton’s victims dreamed fondly of their fate, complete with a soundtrack of swine gnawing bone. No little girl does foresee becoming a sex worker, any more than little boys imagine becoming garbagemen or sheet-metal cutters. (Hands up, all those of you who do have the job of their dreams! I’ll admit I’m relatively blessed in that regard, but then again I am not writing this note from the deck of the space shuttle.)
It is precisely the unpleasantness of such professions that demands we attend carefully to their occupational safety. That is the ground, for better or worse, on which Justice Susan Himel acted. The Wildrose statement does not object that Himel’s decision will fail to make prostitution safer; it concedes the point, and specifically rejects the idea that prostitution should be made safer for women. Why, one wonders, is Robert Pickton in prison at all? By the Forsyth standard, surely he should be freed, perhaps even subsidized as a public benefactor.
The fact is, Alberta already has a governing party that was happy to implement Forsythian ideas of justice and child welfare, dozens of them, before Forsyth became the victim of a geographic squeeze and left the PCs in a snit. The party’s statement thus leaves one wondering whether a vote for the Wildrose is a vote for ideological change, or just the same old formula with a different gang of ministers. It suggests tentatively that Danielle Smith’s “big tent” is going to fly the Oriflamme of social conservatism rather than the Gadsden flag of libertarianism.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, August 13, 2010 at 8:45 AM - 23 Comments
New revelations show why he was able to prey with such impunity
Long before Robert Pickton became an infamous household name, but years after he began prowling Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a local advocacy group conducted a survey of the city’s prostitutes. It helps explain how a simple-minded pig farmer—the very definition of the banality of evil—got away with what police now believe is the largest serial killing spree in Canadian history.
The organization, the Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE) Society, interviewed 183 sex trade workers between 1999 and 2001. It found, not surprisingly, that 58 per cent worked to support a drug habit, and that violent “bad dates” were a frequent occurrence. More than half said they had been robbed while working the streets; 39 per cent said they had been kidnapped or confined; one-third said they had survived attempts to murder them. Remarkably, 40 per cent of those who claimed to have been targets for murder said they didn’t report the incident to police. The survey found a “gulf between acts of violence suffered and acts of violence reported”—indicative of a profound distrust of authorities.