Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Other Horror of the Pig Farm Murders

I see a lot of Canadians have already had enough of the Robert Pickton trial. They'd rather not know what happened to all those women.

From the comments in the Globe and Mail:

“No decent person could desire the ghoulish level of coverage you give to this sorry event."

Even though the ugly truth is because so many other so-called decent Canadians looked away for so long, so many women died.

That's the other horror of the pig farm murders.

It's not just a story of a monster and his victims.  It's also a story of a police department and a city that didn't do enough to stop him until it was too late. Because most of the victims were natives, drug addicts, sex trade workers, or just desperately poor. 

As if they weren't as human as other Canadians. As if their lives didn't count.

But of course they did. They all had families, loved ones, friends and dreams just like everyone else has Just like Sarah de Vries did....

I  watched a documentary about her life on Radio Canada. And I found it incredibly moving

It included an interview shot five years before she disappeared. In the clip she is shooting up and talking about her life on the street.

"You've got three ways you can go. You can go to jail. You can wind up dead. Or you can end up being a lifer down here. It's not a fun life..."

If you understand French you can watch the documentary here. Or just that interview by fast forwarding to 3:55 in the documentary.

Or you can zoom just slightly further ahead to 4:45 and watch the most haunting scene of all....

When a few days before Christmas in 1997 a CBC crew is filming some carollers in the Downtown Eastside, and Sarah stumbles into the shot.

She stares at the carollers as if recalling happier times.

Later she writes in her diary:

"Christmas is here again...this year I regretfully announce there will be no tree, no decorations, possibly no turkey dinner. Depression sinks deeper with every new thought....the emptiness grows...last void.... rapid and silent..."

Those were the last pictures ever taken of her. Four months later she vanished. It took years for the police to take her disappearance, and the disappearance of so many other women, seriously.

But as you can see in the documentary, thanks in large part to Sarah's mother and her sister Maggie they eventually did. And the horror of the pig farm was finally exposed.

And now, after all that , the trial finally gets underway...and already many Canadians have had enough?

Oh boy. I guess that answers Sarah's question... 

"Will they remember me when I'm gone...or will their lives just carry on? Will the tears fall from their eyes? When they try to say their goodbyes..."

Her loved ones never got a chance to say their goodbyes. Or even bury her remains. All police found was a trace of DNA. And life does just carry on.

But when this trial is over we need a public inquiry. Not just because murder is murder. And justice is justice. But also because as a society we need to confront  our human failures so we can overcome them.

So all those women didn't die in vain. So something good comes out of this shameful Canadian horror show.

So it never happens again....


Anonymous said...

I am amazed that anyone would say there has been too much coverage of reminds me of a line from a Tragically Hip song...

"a generation so much dumber than it's parents came crashing through the window"

Christ on a crap covered crutch.


fuck. so many people have died because the rest of us are so incredibly willing and able to just look away and pretend it isn't happening...these women, the 80-odd grannie the IDF bulldozed in her home, the little girl an IDF captain emptied his M16 into at point blank range and got a promotion for it, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Nigeria, Rwanda, IT FUCKING KEEPS HAPPENING BECAUSE YOU FUCKING SHITHEADS ARE LOOKING AWAY AND DOING NOTHING.

fuck i'm angry today. and it's only 9:19am. sorry.

Missing and Murdered Women said...

I think what will change, will be the way police handle disappearances, but not much else. There is certainly more awareness of the plight of women who are left with no other choice but survival sex. But that change must start first in the home where history and statistics tell us that many women who end up on the downtown eastside were first victims of violence, abuse growing up and ultimately put them on that path. The downtown eastside sadly has gotten worse. I knew Sarah, she was my friend and we spent Christmas of 97 together and had breakfast at her sister Maggies that morning. I last saw her the night of her disappearance, April 13, 1998 when she came over to get some of her clothes, eat and go back to the Beacon Hotel where she had been staying with her boyfriend and a girlfriend. I tried to report her missing, but not being family, was told I couldn't and then called her sister to ask her to file a missing persons report. I searched and postered for months and now it looks like we know what happened. Her words "Will they remember me when I'm gone, or will their lives just carry on" are now part of the song 'Missing' in memory of all women who have victims of violences.

Simon said...

Hi Jay!! yeah it really bugs me too...I understand that the details are gory...and I wish I didn't have to hear them. But it's important to recognize that is one huge case of mass murder compounded by the almost total destruction of their very existence. And then there's the sociological aspect. That a rich country like ours hasn't been able to properly help the people of the Lower Eastside is really inexcusable. But then the neocons are even playing politics with the safe injection site, so what can we expect?

Hi Renegade....thanks for that comment. I'm sorry you lost your friend.It's such a tragic story. But I'm glad her words live on in that song. I have only visited Vancouver once. It's such a beautiful city. But when I visted the downtown eastside I couldn't believe my eyes. I couldn't believe I was still in Canada.It's absolutely unforgivable that we can't be big enough, smart enough, and human enough to help all those people...

Lept said...

I've avoided reading your post - just as I have to follow the trial (and much of the news) obliquely - but this is a great piece of writing and hauntingly pertinent. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Merci Simon pour cet excellent commentaire. La pertinence en est troublante et je suggèrerais de le faire parvenir aux différents groupes de soutien aux femmes à risques et à nos représentants politiques à tous les paliers de gouvernements. Je ne peux m'empêcher de penser à chacun de nous et à notre manque de responsabilité sociale qui permet toujours ce genre d'abus ou d'indifférence : il n'y a qu'à penser aux Enfants de Duplessis, aux Autochtones du Canada en général et aux femmes autochtones en particulier, aux assistés sociaux qu'on regarde avec arrogance du haut de notre confort bourgeois, et j'en passe... Cette indifférence a causé et cause encore des génocides rwandais, l'apartheid en Afrique du Sud, l'emprisonnement de populations entières derrière le rideau de fer communiste, l'exploitation des enfants en objet sexuel ou en chair à canon ... Notre histoire très contemporaine prouve que nous n'avons pas beaucoup progressé depuis notr ère des cavernes.

Simon said...

Salut Brian!! Merci pour l' pour ton excellent commentaire. Ce qui m'irrite le plus c'est l'indifference des gens...comme par example, la manière comme les Torontois traitent les sans-abris. C'est triste et répugnante.... Mais naturellement le problème commun...dans le deux villes... c'est la pauvreté. La lutte continue...

Simon said...

Hi Leonard...thanks for that...It's just such a sad many sad stories. And it really burns me up when I remember how ga ga English Canada went over the Bernardo Homolka affair...when the victims and the killers were white and middle class.They couldn't get enough of the sick and quasi pornographic details.And now we've got a monstrous story of Canadian quasi genocide and they don't want to hear about it?
No.Never. That's so wrong it's evil....

Aunty Bertha said...


I want to thank you for putting my thoughts into words.

My frustration du jour: while this trial is putting the plight of the women of the DTES in the face of the public, the government is cutting funding for a drug and alcohol recovery house for aboriginal women from the DTES.

I will not forget and I will make sure that my children do not forget that each one of those missing women was a member of our society and deserved far better than we gave them.

I will also make sure that we all remember that the women who are on the streets now are also members of our society and even if we are not personally in a position to do something to help them, we must never, ever discount them.


Anonymous said...

Hi everyone. First off I want to commend you on a great site! I have a theory I'd like to throw out there. Pickton does not have the required I.Q. to carry out crimes of this magnitude. He was likely involved in ways too heinous to even consider but the mastermind of this was definitely not Robert Willy Pickton. History has revealed that serial killers are cunning and clever, sometimes brilliant. Willy wasn't. He had trouble in school and his education ended at the sixth grade. His brother might have been brighter and quite likely connected. Throw in some Hells Angels, politicians and maybe the odd celebrity and the profile just seems to fit a whole lot better. I'm convinced that Willy is likely an acccomplice but I do believe that certain people who wield much more power than Willy, manipulated the strings.

Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous....yes I sometimes wonder too about whether Pickton was the sole executioner or just the keeper of a graveyard. It will be interesting to see. But as you know although I want justice for the dead...I want to see justice and hope for the living most of all.
I'm hoping that people can look beyond the trial...and really do something to help the people in the Downtown Eastside...

Anonymous said...

While I do feel that the government needs to address some of the issues facing people living on the DTES, I am amazed that so many so easily excuse the actions of the people living there.

The drug addicts and criminals that infest that area have made choices in their lives that have put them in that predicament. In 1991 I lived a half block from Pigeon Park in a dump called the Wonder Hotel. Anyone that remembers that hellhole can attest to its horrors. Now 17 or so years later I own 2 houses and have worked the same steady job for over 10 years. People can and do get out of their bad situations if they want to. Many simply are too lazy and would rather suck on the government teat than getting their ass in gear.

I have some sympathy for the addicts but they did choose to go down that path. It is a choice. It is also a choice to get your crap together and get out of the DTES and similar situations.

sunsin said...

Dear Todd,

You have no idea why those people behave as they do. Only a self-serving legend.

At least some of those addicts have brain abnormalities such as low-functioning dopamine D2 receptors. That condition predisposes to addictive behaviors -- drugs, but also sex addiction, sugar binging, and other types of self-damage. It's a structural fault, thus incurable at the present stage of medical science.

How do I know that? Glad you asked. I have the condition in its extreme form, where the dopamine D2 receptors are dead. In a way, this is good luck, since it makes drug addiction impossible. But it also affects other mental processes, such as the ability to plan long-term. I'm dealing with it now, but only because I understand the relevant causes and effects.

Try making your "free choices" with something like RDS around your neck. And it was luck that spared you, not virtue. By your standards, it would be fine to tie a manhole cover around someone's neck, toss them off a dock, and blame them for drowning. After all, they could have chosen to swim to shore!

So, your preening self-praise at being able to better yourself doesn't impress me a bit. You are so proud of winning a race that you have never bothered to ask whether your competitors were running with broken legs. Really, you should be more grateful to them. Without someone to piss on, you wouldn't be able to feel so superior.

Now you'll say I'm making excuses for them. Nope. I'm looking for explanations, which is also the first thing you do if you want to solve a problem. Nothing happens without a cause.

Your explanation is that all the people still down there are inferior to your glorious self. That's self-flattering to a nauseating degree, but let's for a moment pretend it were true. You'd still be left with the question as to why they are that way. You're afraid of that question, because the answer would reveal that there was far more of luck than virtue to your rise. You happened to have the capabilities that made it possible to turn your situation around by your own efforts. Yes, there was a component that depended on your own conscious effort, but again, why were you able to make that effort when others were not able? In many, many areas, because of the luck of the draw. That's what you're too small and frightened to admit. One dead synapse, one inherited chemical abnormality, one bad encounter in your youth, and you would be right where the people you presume to despise are, with someone sneering at you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Oh, but if we look for explanations and work slowly to try to solve their problems, some of them will exploit our concern and freeload off us, I can hear you say. To which I answer: big f'ing deal. In any system, there are cheats, but somehow it's only the systems that serve the poor that should be shut down to avoid cheating. If you get angry at a welfare recipient scamming the system for a couple of thousand bucks, simple equity demands you get a hundred thousand times angrier at a banker scamming it for hundreds of billions. If you hate the gnats that drain a pinhead's worth of our blood, you can't expect us to tolerate your yawning when Securities Fraud Artist Vlad connects a diesel pump to our jugular veins.

Or is it that Vlad, though a thief, is your kind of thief and you don't condemn him because you admire what he does and hope one day to emulate him? Maybe. That would be one explanation for why you look so lightly on his sins.

I'll leave you with a piece of advice from that Nazarene carpenter's son that many claim to follow -- though some of you follow him at such a distance, he's become invisible.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Say what you like, you can't deny there were times when that guy could hit one out of the park.

Unknown said...

I am so sick of all this! I lived in the DTES, worked with these women and the transgender as well. I lost 2 friends to this psychopath and have another friend missing. I remember the hellhole Todd is talking about; it was owned by a politician who was a slum landlord. It was disgusting! I have so many bad memories of the DTES and yet I have fond memories as well.

I actually met Willie, he had tried to bring me to the farm whne I was pregnant...he was stopped thankfully. I have seen pics of Dave and I have seen him around the DTES all the time, usually at the Number 5 Orange or the Regent Hotel, both were known hangouts for teh Hrll's Angels.

Willie was devilishly smart, maybe not book smart but he was smart. He knew what he was doing. I do know that.

Take these comments as you will, I know what I know and don't really give a damn what others think or say anymore.

Anonymous said...

It's worse than that. The Picktons owned a dance-hall where they held knees-ups that were attended by numerous cops as well as Hells Angels and the party girls. There were numerous cops at all levels involved in this grotesque partying, and the victimisation of a dim-wit is just that. The whole investigation was phony as hell and the trial was a major cover-up. Read the books that tell as much as they dare.

Jacqueline S. Homan said...

Before you give yourself carpal tunnel syndrome from all your self-administered, self-congratulatory pats on the back, think about this: Do you really think you'd have what you've got today if you were a woman living in our male-supremacist society? A woman with a learning disability in a society where males with learning disabilities and prison records get good-paying jobs that are denied to women who are unable to be academically successful? A woman who was raped as a kid (incest is the boot camp of the sex trade), who came from a dysfunctional family? A woman who was non-white? A woman from poverty with no middle class connections to the job market? Try making your "free choices" with the albatross of institutionalized sexism, misogyny, racism and poverty around your neck and let us know how well that works out for you. Nothing is as obtuse as the blindness of privilege. Check your shoelaces before those laces you bootstrapped your way up with trip you up and send you falling flat on your face.

Jacqueline S. Homan said...

Do you really think you'd have what you've got if you were a woman in a male supremacist society where men get all the good-paying jobs? A society where women with learning disabilities, women from deep poverty, and women who've been raped as kids (incest is the boot camp for "sex work")? A society based on male entitlement to women's bodies?