Remembering the murdered and missing women of the Downtown Eastside
// Leah Scheitel

“The idea that so many women have disappeared for such a long time, and with no response form the police, is the reason some members of the community started this march,” explained Dalannah Bowen, a representative from the Women’s Memorial March Organizing Committee. This year, the annual women’s march is celebrating its 21st anniversary to raise awareness of violence towards women and commemorate those who have been murdered in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The event is set to start at 12pm on Feb. 14, says Bowen: “We have a ceremony in the Carnegie Centre theatre at noon for the families who have lost daughters and sisters. We give them an opportunity to speak about their loved ones, and we honour the families and what they have experienced and from there we begin the actual march from the intersection at Main and East Hastings.”

The march follows a specific route around the downtown core, stopping at the locations where women have been murdered to give respect to the lives lost at those locations. “We do some ceremony at each of those sites,” she explains. “We put tobacco and we say prayers.”

The walk takes around two hours, and is followed by a small potlatch at the Japanese Language School (487 Alexander St.), with additional speakers and ceremonies.

Over the years, the march has gained momentum, with over 5,000 people in attendance at the memorial march in 2010. This year, organizers are expecting slightly less than that because it is a workday. However, Bowen says, they “do have a strong base of supporters because it’s an important issue we’re talking about. It’s about human beings.”

The Native Women’s Association of Canada reports that more than 600 Native women have been murdered or gone missing since the early 1990s. The state of missing women in Canada has reached such an alarming level that a United Nations committee wrote to Minister of State for Status of Women Rona Ambrose about the issue. The UN committee will be reviewing the missing women situation this month.

Jan. 27 marked the first time the RCMP apologized for not catching serial killer Robert Pickton sooner. Pickton has been charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder and convicted of six, all women, mostly from the Downtown Eastside. He also claims to have slaughtered numerous more, making him B.C.’s most prolific and known serial killer.

The RCMP and the VPD have been under much public scrutiny for not following through on cases of women missing from the Downtown Eastside in the 1990s.

The RCMP apology isn’t enough for the Women’s Memorial March Organizing Committee: “We can’t afford to step back because the number of women missing is still a crisis situation,” explains Bowen. “The fact remains that even since they’ve arrested Robert Pickton, women are still going missing, and they are not addressing it properly. The apology is words. We want them to back it up with action.”

To raise awareness about the current missing women’s inquiry, there is a “day of action” organized by the Women’s Memorial March Organization Committee on Feb. 13 called Murdered Women, Missing Justice.

“It is in conjunction with the women’s march but it is also in response to this inquiry,” said Bowen. “We thought it was very important that we show solidarity with the women and the families that are in those courtrooms with little support.”

The Murdered Women, Missing Justice rally will meet at 9:30am on Feb. 13 on the corner of Georgia and Granville, which is the location of the missing women’s inquiry. The inquiry was established to review the police investigations into the numerous women that went missing from the Downtown Eastside in the 1990s and early 2000s. Currently, formal hearings are being conducted by the inquiry related to the women reported missing from 1997-2002.

The women’s march started in 1991 after the murder of an aboriginal woman on Powell St. Since it began in Vancouver, it has gained momentum and publicity, sparking similar marches across the country. Currently, there are marches planned in Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa, as well as other Canadian cities, all on Valentine’s Day.

On behalf of the Women’s Memorial March Committee, Dalannah Bowen urges everyone and anyone that can to come and join the rally on the night of Feb. 13 and the march the next afternoon.

“If people are available to come, please do; and it’s not exclusive to women. We need the men in there too, because they’re the ones that are going to help effect the change about men’s relationship to women.”

//Leah Schietel, writer
//Graphics by Jason Jeon

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com