B.C. missing women inquiry led to changes, but roots of violence remain

B.C. women's advocates weigh up the progress made since Commissioner Wally Oppal slammed police for botching their investigations into serial killer Robert Pickton.

'What we haven't seen is the systemic change,' says director of Battered Women's Support Services

Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Vancouver Police Dept)

Violence against aboriginal women remains a problem that police and governments aren't addressing well enough, say women's advocates, two years after the B.C.'s missing women inquiry released 63 recommendations for major change.

Commissioner Wally Oppal's inquiry into missing and murdered women slammed police for botching their investigations into serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on Vancouver sex workers from 1997 to 2002.

The issue returned to the spotlight after the family of Stephanie Lane, whose partial remains were found on Pickton's farm, called for a new murder charge against the killer last week.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women's Support Services, says that when it comes to addressing violence against aboriginal women, more lasting change is needed.

"We need to see that change in an ongoing way. We need the political will. What we haven't seen is the systemic change that we would need to get at the roots of why we have this type of violence."

$750K for drop-in centre helping sex workers

MacDougall is optimistic about the changes she's seeing, however, citing improvements to the Missing Persons Act and the evaluation of the Vancouver police's Sister Watch program.

B.C.'s inquiry into missing and murdered women slammed police for botching their investigations into serial killer Robert Pickton, above, who preyed on Vancouver sex workers.

She says she's encouraged by Vancouver police efforts to improve their relationship with vulnerable women.

One of the missing women inquiry's recommendations acted upon immediately was the provision of $750,000 to the WISH Drop-In Centre Society — an organization that provides services for sex workers.

As a result, WISH is able to stay open overnight, helping staff see many more women — around 180 in the course of the day. Kate Gibson, executive director, says her clients appreciate the change.

"I think the main thing that we hear, is that they can access the services, that it's much more responsive to their schedules.

"I think that's made a huge difference for women who didn't have a safe place to go in the middle of the night."

Tribal council calls for women's buses in northern B.C.

MacDougall and Gibson point to northern B.C. as the region where support for vulnerable women is most needed.

According to the province's final status update report in response to the missing women inquiry, $350,000 has been provided to the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George to deliver community safety workshops along Highway 16.

The government also provided $75,000 to the group, to support increased access to driver education, but, more concretely, the group is asking for shuttle buses to transport women safely throughout northern communities.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone told CBC Radio's The Early Edition in December 2014 he didn't think shuttle buses are a practical solution.

About the Author

Elaine Chau

Associate Producer for CBC Radio in Vancouver

Elaine Chau was born in Hong Kong, and grew up in Montreal and Vancouver. She is the 2008 recipient of the CBC Radio Peter Gzowski internship, multiple RTDNA winner, and Gold Radio Winner in the Health/Medicine category at the 2011 New York Festivals for her series "AIDS: Then and Now".

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