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Robyn Bourgeois

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Is Anyone Listening To The 'Forsaken,' Marginalized Women Of Vancouver?

Posted: 12/18/2012 1:28 pm

Forsaken women. Nobodies. Abandoned women. Marginalized women. Drug sick women. Sex trade workers. Poor women. Aboriginal women. Missing and murdered women.

These words were repeated emphatically throughout Monday's statement by Commissioner Wally Oppal at the public release of the final report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

Oppal implored us to take heed of the horrific suffering of the Missing Women to honor their legacy but also so we might better understand his position that systemic bias is responsible for the failings of the Missing Women investigation. As Oppal proclaimed at the opening of his statement, we need to stop violence against women and we need protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

With words like these, however, it is too easy to be left with the impression that the Missing Women, and marginalized women in general, are simply victims within this story, "troubled" women in need of protection by others.

The truth of the matter is these marginalized women have been among the leaders in the battle for justice for the Missing Women. These "forsaken women," "nobodies," and "sex trade workers" have a long history of organizing politically and demanding that someone answer for the violence experienced not only by the Missing Women, but also generally by the marginalized women of the Downtown Eastside.

And during Oppal's statement, we all had an opportunity to see this first hand — two brave moments of marginalized women demanding to be heard.

The first came near the beginning of the statement. As Oppal began to speak about some particulars of his report, he was interrupted by drums and singing. This was the Women's Warrior Song, and as it has been explained to me, it was gifted to an aboriginal woman who asked for a song for the Missing Women during a ceremony.

Sung to the beat of a traditional aboriginal hand drum, the Women's Warrior Song has become an anthem of courage and strength for those demanding justice for the Missing Women. By disrupting the proceedings, then, these singers and drummers demanded space within this "official" event for the voices of marginalized women.

The second came towards the end. After Oppal stressed that the commission had given everyone an opportunity to be heard, an aboriginal woman stood and bravely challenged him. She described herself as one of Oppal's "forsaken women" — someone with experience on the Downtown Eastside who had significant contributions to make to the inquiry. Yet she, like so many of the women and groups from the Downtown Eastside, was never permitted to be part of the hearings.

"You needed to hear what I had say," she said. "I am asking you to be invited to your table".

Thus, as Oppal and the media tried to talk about the Missing Women, the forsaken women, the marginalized women, these women demanded space to talk for themselves. They demanded to be heard — just as the marginalized women in the Downtown Eastside have long done.

Yes, these women are marginalized; yes, they have been forsaken by society; and yes, they are missing and murdered. But it's equally important to know that these marginalized women are also warriors, fighting to have their voices heard by the "powers that be." Fighting for a better life for the forsaken, the marginalized, and the abandoned women of the Downtown Eastside.

It remains to be seen, however, if anyone is listening.

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  • Sereena Abotsway

    Born Aug. 20, 1971, Abotsway suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and lived with a foster family most of her life. She was 29 when she was last seen in August 2001. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Georgina Papin

    Born March 11, 1964, Papin had seven children. She was last seen in March 1999. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Mona Wilson

    Born Jan. 13, 1975, Wilson had a son. She was last seen in November 2001. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Marnie Frey

    Born Aug. 30, 1973 in Campbell River, B.C. Her daughter, Brittney, was born five years before she disappeared and gave an impact statement at Pickton's trial. Frey was last seen in August 1997. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Brenda Wolfe

    Born Oct. 20, 1968, Wolfe had a son. She was last seen in February 1999. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Andrea Joesbury

    Born Nov. 6, 1978, in Victoria. Joesbury had a daughter. She was last seen in June 2001. Robert Pickton was convicted of her murder in 2007.

  • Cara Ellis

    Known on the street as Nicky Trimble, Ellis was born April 13, 1971 and was last seen in January 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Andrea Borhaven

    Born Jan. 19, 1972 in Armstrong, B.C. Borhaven was reported missing to police on May 18, 1999, but was last seen in 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Kerry Koski

    Born Aug. 14, 1959, Koski had three daughters. She was last seen Jan. 7, 1998. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Wendy Crawford

    Born April 21, 1956, Crawford had a son and a daughter. She was last seen in December 1999. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Debra Jones

    Born in 1957, she was last seen in December 2000. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Tiffany Drew

    Born Jan. 31, 1975, Drew had three children. She was last seen March 2000. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Sarah DeVries

    Born May 12, 1969, to a troubled mother and adopted at 11 months. De Vries' journals and poetry have been widely published since she was last seen April 21, 1998. Her sister, Maggie de Vries, wrote about her sister in the award-winning book Missing Sarah. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Cynthia (Cindy) Feliks

    Born Dec. 12, 1954 in Detroit, Feliks was a mother and grandmother. She was last seen in December 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Angela Jardine

    Born Dec. 12, 1954 in Detroit, Feliks was a mother and grandmother. She was last seen in December 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Diana Melnick

    Born Aug. 26, 1975, Melnick was last seen Dec. 27, 1995. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Jacqueline McDonnell

    Born June 6, 1976, McDonell had a daughter. She was last seen Jan. 16, 1999. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Dianne Rock

    Born Sept. 2, 1967, Rock had five children. She was last seen in October 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Heather Bottomley

    Born Aug. 17, 1976, Bottomley had two children. She was last seen April 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Jennifer Furminger

    Born Oct. 22, 1971, Furminger grew up in St. Catharine's, Ont. She had a son and police say she was last seen in December 1999. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Helen Hallmark

    Born June 24, 1966, Hallmark had a daughter. She was last seen June 15, 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Patricia Johnson

    Born Dec. 2, 1975. Johnson had a son and a daughter, and was last seen March 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Heather Chinnock

    Born Nov. 10, 1970 in Denver, Colo. She had two children. She was last seen April 2001. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Tanya Holyk

    Born Dec. 8. 1975, Holyk had a son. She was last Oct. 29, 1996. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Sherry Irving

    Born March 19, 1973, Irving was last seen in April 1997. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Inga Hall

    Born in 1952 in Germany, Hall had two daughters and two granddaughters. She was last seen in February 1998. Robert Pickton was charged with her murder but the charge was stayed in 2010.

  • Nancy Clark

    Born July 29, 1966, Clark was last seen Aug. 22, 1991 and reported missing to Victoria police the following day. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Stephanie Lane

    Born May 28, 1976, Lane grew up in Vancouver. She was 20 years old and had recently given birth to her only son when she disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in January of 1997. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but there was never any charge in her case.

  • Dawn Crey

    Born Oct. 26, 1958, Crey was a member of the Sto:lo First Nation near Chilliwack, B.C., and had a son. She was last seen in November of 2000. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Jacqueline Murdock

    Born Jan. 28, 1971, Murdock was the youngest daughter of a large First Nation family in Fort St. James. She had four children. She was last seen on Aug. 13, 1997. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Sharon Abraham

    Last seen in 2000. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.

  • Yvonne Boen

    Born Nov. 30, 1967, Boen had a son. She was last seen in March of 2001. Her DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm but no charge was ever laid in her case.


 

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