British Columbia

Serial killer Robert Pickton murder victims: Proposed healing garden taking shape

A healing garden to honour women murdered at the notorious Willie Pickton farm is in the works, but some family members are skeptical.

Family members of murder victims raise concerns about the project

One of two concepts for the Blakeburn Lagoons revitalization project. (City of Port Coquitlam)

A healing garden to honour women murdered at the notorious Pickton farm is one step closer to being built.

Earlier this week, the City of Port Coquitlam held a public consultation meeting to discuss the prospect of a garden at Blakeburn Lagoons Park.

The plans include walking trails, wetlands, beaches and picnic areas. The healing garden imagined is a small area in the middle of a pond with plants and flowers to attract butterflies and to honour women killed by Robert Pickton.

Robert Pickton was convicted in 2007 of six counts of second degree murder. The remains of 33 women were found on his farm.

Ernie Crey wants the national public inquiry to expand to include missing and murdered Indigenous men. (CBC)

Ernie Crey's sister Dawn was one of the women murdered at the notorious serial killer's property.

"I would rank the disappearances and deaths of so many British Columbian women as a notable historical event deserving of a healing garden or a memorial," said Crey.

Jami Roberts came up with the initial idea for the garden.

"I am a resident of Port Coquitlam and as a community member I was devastated that so many lives were lost. As a survivor of violence I felt connected to the women, eventually it became a mission to make sure something was done."

Roberts lives about two blocks away from what was once the Pickton farm.

Controversial past memorial projects

The site of the proposed garden is a mere 500 meters away from the farm which has made some family members apprehensive about visiting the garden, once built.

For many, visiting an area marked by so much trauma is unbearable. And that's not the only reason why some are hesitant.

Over the past several years, there has been controversy surrounding a number of memorials set up in Vancouver that set out to honour missing and murdered women taken from Vancouver's downtown Eastside.

Last year, the City of Vancouver shut down a memorial project that involved installing sidewalk plaques with victims' names. Some family members of victims wanted no part of the "Living Stones" project. One of the original organizers, Sean Kirkham, had a criminal history.

And there's more.

In 2011, Pamela Masik's exhibition "The Forgotten" at the Museum of Anthropology was cancelled after community groups and family members voiced concerns about the distress the paintings could cause family members.

A showing of portraits of murdered and missing women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has been cancelled, the CBC's Alan Waterman reports 2:13

More recently, a Toronto artist stopped tweeting illustrations he had done of missing and murdered women after family members asked him to stop. Evan Munday agreed to end his project — tweeting the drawings to Stephen Harper — after family members said the cartoon drawings seemed to make fun of the tragedy.

Call for more family consultations

Those incidents have made family members like Lorelei Williams, whose cousin Tanya Holyk was murdered by Robert Pickton, hesitant to support future projects.

"My concerns are about families being consulted, because all the families need to be involved in this — not just a few but all of them," she said.

Lorelei Williams says she wants more family consultation on the proposed healing garden project at Blakeburn Lagoons in Port Coquitlam. (CBC)

With the Port Coquitlam healing garden, organizer Jami Roberts says she has contacted six family members. But Williams says it's not enough — she must contact all 33 family members.

The City of Port Coquitlam says if the project were to go forward after public consultation, it would get in touch with all the families through the province. The Mayor of Port Coquitlam, Greg Moore, says he supports the project, but is not sure exactly how it look like.

"It has a geographical connection [to the Pickton farm], and for Jami and some people in our community there's  definitely connection since it's so close to the farm, but we are not really sure what a plaque at the garden will say, for example, but we are working on that."

Jami Roberts initiated the healing garden project to commemorate the Pickton victims. (Jami Roberts)

'Diluted and whitewashed'

Moore said the garden might not even have any reference to Pickton's victims, but can be about promoting prevention of violence against women. In an online survey that was provided at the public consultation on Wednesday night, there was no mention of Pickton or his victims.

That doesn't sit well with Ernie Crey.

Ernie Crey's sister, Dawn Crey, went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in November 2000. (CBC)

"I think it's just so sad that people lack so much imagination and compassion that they would want to see a memorial like this diluted and to be whitewashed. And to strike the name of Pickton off it, I just don't agree with it," Crey said.

Roberts' original proposal was to have a memorial site right on the Pickton farm, but many family members rejected it. So she decided to hatch another plan that would still honour the women but off the site. She said if any family members oppose the project, she will step away from it and stop pushing it forward.

Mayor Greg Moore said if the healing garden project passes, construction will begin next year.

With files from Angela Sterritt