By Roohi Sahajpal
Feature image courtesy of Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver, B.C., is known for its picturesque scenery, snowcapped mountains and for being one of the most expensive places to live in Canada. The city has also become known for an area which is the opposite of all of those things; Vancouver’s Eastside. This poverty stricken and drug plagued area is notorious for its crime, homelessness, and prostitution.
Over the past 20 years, hundreds of women, many of whom were Aboriginal sex trade workers have gone missing. Many of these women have since been linked as victims of serial killer Robert Pickton, who was arrested in 2002 and is now serving a life sentence.
Last week the British Columbia government rejected a recommendation to fund groups that represented sex workers, aboriginal women and Vancouver’s Eastside residents as part of an upcoming public inquiry into the Pickton case.
The inquiry is being spearheaded by former attorney-general Wally Oppal, who recommended that 13 advocacy groups receive government funding to help cover legal costs.
By not providing this money to these groups who are representing sex trade workers, Aboriginal women and Downtown Eastside residents, the government of British Columbia is denying these people a the chance to have their voices heard. A chance to talk about the crimes committed against so many women in the area.
In a written statement, Attorney General Barry Penner said:
“These continue to be challenging economic times, and there are limits to how many millions of taxpayer dollars we can provide to lawyers representing advocacy groups.”
Surely, they had enough money to hold inquiries for several other high profile cases?
In the cases of Robert Dziekanski, a polish immigrant who was Tasered to death by the RCMP and Frank Paul, who died in the custody of the RCMP, the government covered legal fees for both inquiries.
The government states a lack of funding as a reason but I would say, it’s a continuation of a type of intersectional discrimination that plagues women around the world every day.
Intersectional discrimination can be described as being discriminated against for various intersecting factors such as gender, race and economic status.
Which are exactly how these women are also being discriminated against – these women are Aboriginal, poor and sex workers. These are women that the government simply does not have enough money to listen to.
Tracy Porteous, of the Ending Violence Association of B.C., one of the groups denied funding, said in a news release:
“This is a disastrous decision. Being a provincial organization, we would bring a strong substantive province-wide lens, specializing in violence against women to this inquiry, a perspective the commission said they are looking for, but we can’t do it without resources.”
We live in a society that continues to perpetuate this patriarchal hierarchy, in our schools, our courts and our government. The missing women inquiry could help the government and police understand why so many women living in this area are vulnerable to these types of crimes and what they can do to prevent something like this from happening again. Yet, no lawyer will be appointed to these victims.
For the hundreds of women who have gone missing from Vancouver’s Eastside or were victims of Robert Pickton’s crimes, I wonder … when will they matter? By not allowing these advocacy groups to have their voice heard, the tragedy continues.
Regardless of race or economic status, these are the lives of at-risk women, some murdered, some who are still missing, and those alive and willing to speak.
I think it’s time we listen.