Hundreds rally in Vancouver for missing women
Her mother and two sisters died in Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside -- their bodies beaten and left to die, likely by the dealers that were fuelling their habits.
But Skundaal, a Haida woman who uses only one name, says their cases received little attention, their deaths little justice, and to her, the explanation is tragically simple.
"It's just another Indian," Skundaal said Saturday before an annual march to remember missing women in Vancouver and across B.C.
"These are hate crimes against women, women of colour, aboriginal women."
Hundreds of people snaked through the Downtown Eastside to the beat of aboriginal drumming to highlight the dozens of women, many aboriginal, who have died or gone missing from Vancouver or B.C.'s so-called Highway of Tears.
They include the six women Robert Pickton has been convicted of killing and the 20 others whose deaths he is still charged with.
There are the 18 women who've gone missing along the western stretch of Highway 16 across northern British Columbia.
And there are others, including more than 30 still on the Vancouver Police's list of women missing from the Downtown Eastside.
Many of those who attended the Valentine's Day march, some family members of the missing or dead women, focused on the poverty and racism that is the root of many of the problems the women faced -- and, they said, the reason they are still waiting for justice.
"If there were women missing or had been murdered who had European ancestry, who came from middle-class backgrounds, there would be outrage, this would be on the front pages every day," local activist Angela MacDougall said before the event began.
"This is about racism, this is about hate. It's just enough."
Police have long been criticized for ignoring cases of missing women in the Downtown Eastside or failing to realize that many of disappearances may have been the work of a serial killer.
Calls for a special police unit to handle such cases began in the early 1990s, but the missing women task force wasn't set up until 1998.
And as recently as 1999, less than three years before the raid at Pickton's notorious farm in Port Coquitlam, Vancouver police said they didn't believe some of the women had been murdered, much less by the same person.
Police have defended their work on the missing women files, and have insisted they have tried to build a better relationship with residents in the Downtown Eastside.
They say the missing women task force continues to investigate outstanding cases.
But that's cold comfort for families who have already lost their sisters, daughters and mothers.
B.C. Attorney General says inquiry will have to wait
Jason Fluery, whose sister Mona Wilson is among the women Pickton was convicted of murdering, told a packed room at a community centre before the march that police and politicians have turned a "blind eye" to the missing women.
"My sister was a person with a heart and skin and blood like everybody else in this room," said Fluery.
"It goes on everywhere down here, because nobody cares. Our people are dying every day because of it."
Fluery and others repeated calls for a public inquiry into the Pickton case and the other missing women in the province.
B.C.'s attorney general has said any decision about a possible inquiry would have to wait until Pickton's legal saga is finished.
Pickton is appealing his convictions and the Crown has said it doesn't plan on prosecuting the outstanding 20 charges if Pickton's earlier convictions are upheld.
Ernie Crey's younger sister, Dawn Crey, disappeared in December 2000 at age 43. Her DNA was found on Pickton's farm in 2004, although he was never charged in her death.
Crey said if the legal process stops, the families of the women who were connected to the Pickton farm but for whom no one was convicted or even charged may never know what happened.
"It causes me anxiety and anguish," said Crey.
"My concern is that that is where it will all end. This leaves a question mark for a family like mine."
Rallies and marches were also planned in Victoria, Calgary and Winnipeg.