The Missing Women Inquiry focusing on police delays in catching serial killer Robert Pickton must also tackle the broader failure of society, the brother of one of the victims said Wednesday.
Ernie Crey, a prominent First Nations spokesman from Chilliwack, testified his sister Dawn Crey was like so many other victims – torn from her troubled birth family and sent to foster care and then later virtually penned up in the Downtown Eastside by the web of services there geared to addicts, the poor and the mentally ill.
“We’ve concentrated all these women in the Downtown Eastside as if it were an Indian reserve or something,” Crey told the inquiry. “And we keep them down there and they become easy prey. They become vulnerable to somebody like Willie Pickton.”
Crey said he’s been approached by affluent residents of Vancouver’s tonier neighbourhoods who console him for the loss of his sister but would never support a treatment centre or housing for the homeless near them.
“When my sister Dawn was hungry she went to a soup kitchen,” he said. “It wasn’t in Kitsilano. It wasn’t in Shaughnessy.
“When she needed a methadone prescription filled, she wasn’t headed to Kerrisdale.”
Politicians make the policies, Crey said, but stressed “we are all responsible.”
He testified on the day Dawn, who vanished in 2000, would have turned 53.
Both siblings were devastated by the early death of their father and their mother’s resulting fall into alcoholism.
Ernie turned to petty crime in Hope before being sent to a boys school on Vancouver Island. He found success in multiple branches of the federal government and is now an advisor to aboriginal groups.
Dawn went to foster care and ended up on the Downtown Eastside.
She struggled with mental illness and heroin addiction and was scarred for life when an attacker once burst into her skid-row hotel room and doused her with acid.
Her DNA was found on the Port Coquitlam pig farm but Pickton was never charged with her murder.
Crey believes Dawn could still be alive today if police properly investigated Pickton as a suspect in the missing women cases after he was arrested and charged with attempting to murder a prostitute who escaped from the farm in 1997.
Instead, charges against Pickton were dropped in 1998 and a dozen more women went missing – including Crey’s sister – before Pickton was arrested in early 2002.
“I can’t begin to tell you how angry I am about that,” Crey told Commissioner Wally Oppal.
“I want people to understand how let down we feel by the system and how angry we are to this very day.”
The inquiry also heard testimony about Angela Williams, a Campbell River aboriginal woman found murdered in Surrey on Colebrook Road in 2001.
The murder is still unsolved and isn’t attributed to Pickton but is being examined as another example of a mishandled missing person case.
Margaret Green, the guardian of Williams’ children, testified the daughters were haunted by nightmares and questions about what happened to their birth mom.
She had few answers for them.
Police reports emphasized Williams was a drug addict, a prostitute and native, said Green, who added they seemed to have “tunnel vision” and took little action.
“I really think this is another case of racial stereotyping,” Green said.
The Commission then heard from the daughter of Williams, 21-year-old Ashley Smith.
“It’s been almost 10 years and I don’t know why my mother died,” she told the inquiry.
“I want to know why no one cared enough to treat this case properly from the beginning,” Smith said. “Was it because she was native? Was it because she did drugs?”
The inquiry will hear from more relatives of victims before key Vancouver Police Department and RCMP members begin to testify.