Our Indifference Fostered the Pickton Horror

By Rafe Mair

Presented Here By

Bonnie M. Wells

Stevie Cameron's latest, On The Farm, is a book about nearly 50 women killed by a madman, Robert William ("Willie") Pickton. But it's much, much more than that. And while it's a book for everyone, it's especially a book for British Columbians. And it's one that can and will be read in different ways by different people.

The story line is well known: a pig farmer lures nearly 50 women, mostly prostitutes, to his farm near Vancouver, kills them, then slaughters them like pigs and buries the pieces. For those who want grim, this is grim. But to me it's not the story.

I don't know how others do it, but when I review a book I read, mark pages, highlight passages then try to put my thoughts into some reasonably connected pr?cis plus an evaluation. On The Farm was no exception but I couldn't do a pr?cis, because I couldn't get over the thought that this book, for me, was really a well-documented and disturbing treatise on the society to which I belong, especially that part of the Canadian community where I was born, my four children were born, and which I love and boast about to any who'll listen.

Until I read what Cameron wrote, I had had my eyes grimly closed and my ears thoroughly plugged against any serious condemnation of my community. Only bleeding hearts give a shit about cheap, drug-addicted hookers who should pull themselves together and lead a decent life. What the hell do they expect when they go into the depths of Vancouver East, where all evil live and ply their trades?

I knew, of course, that you and I bear no responsibility for this case, which dispatches Jack the Ripper into utter obscurity. I mean, what the devil could we have done about this? How were we to know?

I invite British Columbians who live in Greater Vancouver to take that feeling into the book and you will emerge from the experience sick to your stomachs and ashamed.

Too harsh a self judgment?

Read it and find out!

You will see how Stevie follows the lives of six of the women, and while you won't admit this, perhaps even to yourselves, you will learn that they were all human beings, who loved and were loved and remain posthumously loved today.

No one wakes up one morning and says, "I think I'll get myself a solid drug addiction and become a cheap hooker." As you look into the society examined -- their living space being right on the streets used by nice people as they drive about -- you may well condemn Cameron for dramatizing her story. Except she doesn't.

As I read on, I had a sudden flashback to a book written by the late Pierre Berton eons ago called The Comfortable Pew, a nasty but deadly accurate examination of the Anglican Church of the time. You get the drift just by the title. Examine Greater Vancouver objectively and we see the "Comfortable Community."

As I read I saw Wendy and me, following a nice lunch at the exclusive Vancouver Club, driving through the Downtown Eastside on our way home to our comfortable townhouse in Lions Bay with the 180 degree view of Howe Sound. On our journey, perhaps we feel the odd, uncomfortable tic of a buried conscience as we pass the lineups to the Gospel Mission or see the alleys of addiction, but in no time we remember that these are, for the most part, druggies, who must face the consequences of their own stupidity.

As you go through the book you will find the perfect reason to declare yourself as unconnected to the story. You read about the disgusting police "work," especially how forensic expert Kim Rossmo is worked over by the police "old boys" and how these "old boys" thwarted his progress. They wielded such power they even got the Vancouver police chief Bruce Chambers fired. "The Mounties always get their man" becomes a bad joke.

But what the hell do decent folks like us have to do with that?

Unfortunately, one of my oldest friends, then Vancouver mayor Philip Owen, connects us firmly to the blindness of "good people" as they read the unfolding gruesome story. Mr. Owen, when it was suggested that a $100,000 reward be offered leading to an arrest said, "There's no evidence that a serial killer is at work... no bodies have been found. They [the police] have a procedure for homicides and missing people and they are following it. I don't think it's appropriate for a big award for a location service."

Mayor Owen is a decent man whose changed response to drug addiction, while he was mayor, showed a compassion his own well-heeled Shaughnessey couldn't understand. Like too many of us, though, his compassion was narrowly constricted.

In fact, Mr. Owen was speaking for his constituents, including some Lions Bay folks. Most of us remembered the Clifford Robert Olson case, in which Olson managed to get the government to pay his wife $1,000 for locating the remains of each victim he murdered. No one wanted to do that again!

At this point, fellow citizens, you may wish to stop reading, for there is a direct line between the Pickton case and the Olson case and you may be, should be, deeply troubled, With Olson, we the citizens, especially those who, like I, had teenage kids, related to the victims and their families. We were, for every good reason, with them in spirit and vocal chords. God help the police if they didn't get this madman immediately, we thought, so we could rest in peace and the families of these youthful victims have "closure."

The Pickton victims and their families evoked no such a societal attitude. What Mr. Owen was saying is that there is no need to put the police to the test, because they would do their job. Olson, Pickton -- what was the difference? The police could be trusted to do their job regardless of who the victims and their families were. But they couldn't be, and mayor Philip Owen, who chaired the police commission, was wrong as were most of us, who, lamentably, concurred with his judgment.

And this is where we come in, folks. Our elected politicians ran the show on our behalf and relied on pressing our pulse when directing the police. The good burghers of Metro Vancouver didn't rise in fury when victims were not missing kids but drug-addicted hookers. Drug addicts and hookers, often the same person, were simply of no concern to the "comfortable pew" most of us occupy.

Stevie Cameron has lived in Vancouver, which allows her to look at the tent from within, not without. Unlike most Toronto journalists, she doesn't patronizingly look "out there" at those savages who live in that funny place with its funny politics.

There is much more to On The Farm, of course, including a close look at the police "work," which is to be formally investigated, and the legal proceedings which are books in themselves.

Stevie Cameron has written yet another great book exposing, as is her wont, the "comfortable establishment" in our country of indifference to societal ills that might be expensive nuisances to deal with.

Rafe Mair's column runs every second Monday on The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee columns hereand more of his writings on The Common Sense Canadian.

Stevie Cameron's blog: http://steviecameron.com/


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