Downtown Eastside activist Angela Marie MacDougall said she’s “reticent” to talk about the B.C. missing women’s inquiry and her continued refusal to speak there.
“There’s no reason to [testify],” MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, told the Straight by phone. “I wouldn’t want to validate that process, because it’s so far astray.”
However, despite her own misgivings, one major change MacDougall hopes the inquiry will create is a safe community.
“One of the things that matters to me in my work—any work that I am doing—I want to extend the message to the [DTES] community, and to the community at large, that the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood is not a neighbourhood where men can do violence against women with impunity,” MacDougall said. “That has been a belief, that this neighbourhood is a place where men can do violence with impunity.”
Whether it’s men living in the neighbourhood, or whether it’s men who come to the neighbourhood in order to seek out vulnerable women in order to do harm to them, this has been the “historical understanding of this neighbourhood”, according to MacDougall, “and that was actualized by that one prolific serial killer” Robert Pickton.
Sex-trade activist Jamie-Lee Hamilton said of MacDougall’s main point on safety, “I agree.”
“As long as there’s a containment zone, which is Vancouver police board policy, it increases the risk that women face in that containment zone,” Hamilton told the Straight by phone. “They created the containment zone because they deemed street-level prostitution to be a nuisance. But it has had this really horrible consequence of providing areas for anonymous predators to seek out prey.”
Like MacDougall, Hamilton was also hesitant to participate in the inquiry, but the 2011 park-board candidate eventually did partake in an inquiry panel presentation.
“I can understand that she feels that she’s validating what she feels in an invalid process,” Hamilton said. “But at the same time, this is a public inquiry. It’s about putting things on the public record. And even if there’s no recommendations that flow out of it, the fact is it was still important to have voices put back on the public record.”
The inquiry is currently suspended pending commissioner Wally Oppal’s search for legal representation for the aboriginal community following the withdrawal of lawyer Robyn Gervais.