When I began working at the WISH Drop-in Centre, on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, I knew little about addiction, street life or the sex trade. Up until this point my career had been focused on communications and technology start-ups where I spent the bulk of my time behind a computer.
Working At WISH
Working at WISH put me on the frontlines with women whose lives were in a constant state of upheaval. Some nights were quiet. Other nights were filled with women bursting through the church doors fleeing violent predators or drug dealers they owed money to.
The church didn’t offer much in the way of protection. There were no security cameras, and I didn’t have a cell phone that I could use to call for outside help. But thankfully, there was respect on the street for the First United Church that housed the WISH Drop-in Centre. For some reason, the violent predators and debt collectors always stopped and turned away, when they reached the doors that led into WISH.
Stories about Missing Women
During my tenure I listened to many stories about the women who went missing. My earliest recollection dates back to 1998, when Serena Abbotsway told me the police had mistaken her for Angela Jardine. Angela Jardine and Serena Abbotsway were regulars at WISH. According to Serena, Angela’s parents had been trying to report her missing for months only to be told that their daughter was well and alive and working as a prostitute on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
A Case of Mistaken Identity
Eventually it was established that the Angela spottings were a case of mistaken identity. Both Angela and Serena had brown hair and were about the same height and weight. Serena wasn’t fazed. She knew many women who had gone missing from this neighbourhood.
In 2001, Serena Abbotsway was also reported missing. In 2002, both Angela’s and Serena’s DNA was found on the Pickton Farm. Robert Pickton was later charged with their murders. While in custody Pickton would admit to killing 49 women to an undercover officer.
The Trial of Robert Pickton
Pickton’s trial began on January 8, 2007 in New Westminster’s Supreme Court. Charged with killing 27 women, Pickton pleaded not guilty. The judge agreed to motions put forth by Pickton’s defence team to have the charges severed. Pickton was then tried for the murders of only six women.
Testifying for the Crown
On May 11, 2007, I testified for the Crown at the Robert Pickton trial in the New Westminster Supreme Courthouse. According to reporters covering the story I was the first witness to put a human face on the missing women. Up until this point Crown Prosecutor, Derrill Prevett had filled court proceedings with his impressive knowledge of DNA evidence which was too technical for most court watchers to comprehend. After a year-long trial, in what became known as Canada’s largest and most expensive criminal trial, on December 11, 2007, Robert Pickton was handed a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.
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