Hundreds march to honour women missing, slain

Many who marched through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Monday say they're concerned a forthcoming public inquiry is solely focused on the case of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Some of the hundreds who marched through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on Valentine's Day to remember the city's missing and murdered women say they're still concerned a forthcoming public inquiry is solely focused on the high-profile case of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Carrying baskets of red and yellow roses, giant photo collages of lost loved ones and hand-printed signs warning about the "danger" of certain men, the large crowd walked through drenching rain after a memorial service in a Downtown Eastside community centre.

It was the 20th year for the annual march, which started as residents of the blighted neighbourhood tried desperately to bring attention to women — many aboriginal sex workers — who were disappearing in growing numbers.

Just before Monday's grim ceremony, advocates spoke out about what they say are inadequacies with the provincial inquiry, which is expected to get under way later this year. Among their concerns were a perceived lack of consultation with the victims' families and aboriginal groups, as well as the appointment of just a single commissioner to oversee the hearings.

"We're talking about, frankly, the most pressing social issue of our time," Angela MacDougall, one of several march organizers, told a news conference.

"We should all be extremely concerned by this lack of attention by the provincial government."

Highway of Tears

Another big mistake is failing to include women and girls who have vanished for years along the so-called Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia, she said.

The inquiry was announced last fall after Pickton lost his final court appeal, but many critics believe the notorious killer was only one part of a much larger problem. The inquiry will probe the period from January 1997 to February 2002, when Pickton was finally arrested at his Port Coquitlam pig farm.

The inquiry "captures a point in time when we had a very prolific serial killer at play," MacDougall said. "However, it does not capture the realities of many women we know that have gone missing or were found murdered outside of that time frame, going back to 1986 and ... 1969."

The Missing Women Commission, headed by former B.C. attorney general and judge Wally Oppal, will look at the early police investigation of missing women, why Pickton wasn't arrested sooner and whether policing changes can be made to prevent future murders.

Memorial marches were also planned Monday for at least 10 other Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary.