A women's-safety activist who was arrested at the Vancouver police station says she's not impressed by the VPD's response to the death of Ashley Nicole Machisknic.
Angela Marie MacDougall, director of Battered Women's Support Service, told the Straight that she and two other activists were charged with assault by trespass after they demanded a meeting with Chief Jim Chu last night (October 4). It came as a protest was being held outside the station by members and supporters of the February 14th Women's Memorial March.
"This is a new day in terms of how we're going to be responding to police lack of response to violence against women in the Downtown Eastside," MacDougall said. "It's a new day."
MacDougall, Alice Kendall, and Harsha Walia were arrested in the police station on the national day of action for missing and murdered Indigenous women. An October 4 VPD statement maintained that protesters were only arrested after they "refused repeated appeals by officers to leave".
MacDougall said Machisknic, a 22-year-old aboriginal woman, was murdered by a man who tossed her body out the window of the Regent Hotel on September 15.
She alleged that police deemed her death to be a suicide, even though witnesses have claimed that they heard her being raped by three men inside the hotel. MacDougall also said she and others have been told that witnesses saw Machisknic's shoes being thrown out the window about 10 seconds after her body hit the ground.
"From our perspective, this is not a suicide," MacDougall said.
She added that she knows of six cases over the past two years of women either being thrown out of windows or having their heads shaved as punishment for not repaying drug debts.
MacDougall claimed that the VPD is not addressing this gender-targeted violence, which has occurred in addition to the high number of rapes and beatings in the neighbourhood.
"You have to understand, it's ground zero when it comes to violence against women," she said, referring to the Downtown Eastside.
She alleged that this lack of investigative zeal has occurred despite Deputy Chief Doug LePard writing a lengthy report highlighting failures in the VPD's probe into the missing-women cases, which culminated in six second-degree murder convictions against Robert Pickton.
"Here we are in the 21st century with an instance of violence against a young woman," MacDougall said. "From our perspective, nothing has changed."
The VPD stated that Machisknic's death is being investigated by the major crime section and involves homicide-unit detectives.
MacDougall, a member of the February 14th Women's Memorial March, noted that the police reaction to Machisknnic's death differs markedly from the behaviour of police after two recent high-profile incidents of violence against young women in the suburbs.
She pointed out that there was a "very obvious" response to a gang rape in Pitt Meadows, as well as to the bludgeoning death of Laura Szendrei in North Delta's Mackie Park.
However, MacDougall said the police response has been far more restrained in the death of Machisknic and with other targeted attacks on Downtown Eastside women.
"In my 20 years as an activist, I have never once heard the police in the Downtown Eastside come out asking for witnesses to any kind of violence against women—ever," she claimed.
The VPD statement, which appears on its website, "strongly urges anyone with information about this or other incidents to contact them, an advocate, an anonymous tip line such as Crime Stoppers, or anyone who might be more comfortable relaying critical information to facilitate an investigation".
MacDougall questioned the value of posting something as serious as this on a website rather than making public statements.
“If they partnered with the women’s memorial march, we could easily create forums for them to reach out to the community and gather information,” she said.