Today, hundreds will take to the streets of Vancouver to commemorate the missing and murdered women of the Downtown Eastside (DTES).
The annual Women’s Memorial March has been held every Valentine’s day for the past 25 years, bringing attention to the emotional, mental and physical violence the women of the DTES are exposed to every day.
While many of us know that the DTES is Vancouver’s most impoverished community, we often fail to recognize that the women who live in the area are faced with enormous setbacks including living below the poverty line, homelessness, addiction, mental health issues and involvement in sex work.
According to a report by the Sisterwatch Project, these factors make women extremely more vulnerable to violence and abuse. A vast majority the women who are subjected to this violence are Indigenous.
A report released by the RCMP in 2013, revealed that there are 164 Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing in Canada and 1,017 have been murdered.
However, there are many more women whose disappearances and deaths have gone unreported.
This report was the first ever the RCMP has released on the state of violence against First Nations, Inuit, or Metis girls and women.
In Vancouver’s DTES, a reported 70 women have gone missing. The issue of missing and murdered women on the DTES became particularly prevalent during the murder trial of Port Coquitlam pig farmer, Robert Pickton. In 2007, Pickton was sentenced to life in prison and charged for second-degree murder of six women. He was also charged with the deaths of 22 additional women, but these charges were stayed. He confessed to killing 49 women to an undercover police officer. His victims were women who had gone missing from the DTES, many of them being Indigenous.
What is disheartening is that it took a mass murder case to bring some sort of attention to the issue of the missing women of the DTES. However, the families of these victims and women who still have not been found feel robbed of justice and grieve the loss of their loved ones every day.
The family of Stephanie Lane still has not found any justice for their daughter who went missing in January 1997 when she was 20 years old. Her DNA had been found on Pickton’s farm but law enforcement told the family that there was not enough evidence to press charges.
Last August, the BC Coroners Service told Lane’s mother, Michele Pineault, that they had forgot Lane’s remains in a storage unit for 11 years, meaning there was enough evidence to charge Pickton with the murder of Lane. “They have made me relive this. I have no justice for my daughter… I’ve lost my daughter, what worse can I go through,” Pineault told the CBC.
There are so many other instances of Indigenous women being assaulted, or killed all across the country but the provincial and federal levels of government have not taken any action to conduct an inquiry.
Last December, 16-year-old Rinelle Harper of the Garden Hill First Nation called on the federal government to organize a national inquiry. Harper was brutally sexually assaulted and left for dead in a Winnipeg river. “I am here to talk about an end to violence against young (aboriginal) women,” she said as she addressed the Assembly of First Nations. However, her request was denied and overlooked by the national government as Justice Minister Peter Mackay said an inquiry would slow down progress already been made on the cases of missing and murdered women.
The Women’s Memorial March is a chance for the families of the missing and murdered women and the community at large to come together and remember those who have gone missing and been killed.
Moreover, the march serves as an opportunity for community members to gather and call attention to the provincial and national governments and the RCMP to conduct a national inquiry into the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women who continue to be victims of emotional, colonial, racialized, physical and sexual violence.
The march will also be held in several other Canadian cities, including Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg.
Feature Image: Women’s Memorial March