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Slow response to Missing Women recommendations
The announcement this week that the children of Willie Pickton’s victims will be compensated is good news, but why is it taking government so long to take such action, asks the sister of one of his victims.
Maple Ridge resident Sandra Gagnon’s sister Janet Henry is believed to have been murdered by the serial killer, but DNA evidence was never found at the scene. She was worried that her niece Debra Chartier-Pijnenburg would not be among those receiving $50,000 in compensation.
There was anecdotal evidence Henry was one of the pig farm’s victims. She was seen with Pickton, and a partial plate from her dental work was found in the dirt at the farm. The Missing Women’s Task Force concluded that her life ended there. Henry had lived in Maple Ridge before falling into life on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.
The family found out on Wednesday that Henry’s daughter will be among the 98 children of Pickton’s victims to be compensated.
“I’m happy for her,” said Gagnon. “Debra has grown up to be a fine young lady.”
However, she added that no amount of money can make amends.
“In reality, $50,000 is nothing, compared with what happened to the women,” said Gagnon.
The funds have been a long time coming said lawyer Neil Chantler, who has been representing the families of 13 Pickton victims in a civil lawsuit related to the loss of their mothers.
“It would have been preferable if the government moved more quickly on these recommendations,” he said, noting compensation was one of the key recommendations of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
He said $50,000 is the maximum that would have been awarded by courts in a successful civil suit.
“The law is woefully inadequate,” said Chantler, adding that the province needs an updated Wrongful Death Act. “We must reform the law.”
Wally Oppal wrote Foresaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
“There never will be enough money to compensate those people who lost mothers and lost aunts and lost loved ones,” said Oppal. “Money can never compensate that. But the law tries to do its best by compensating the people who suffered losses and money’s the only measure that we have in compensating that loss.”
The $50,000-per-child compensation offer is intended to provide the children of the women with an opportunity to enhance their education, housing or other circumstances as they progress with their lives, said a government press release.
Pickton, a multimillionaire pig farmer, was convicted in 2007 of six counts of second-degree murder, and 20 more charges were stayed by the Crown. He confessed to 49 murders, to an undercover officer posing as a cellmate. The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on the farm.
Government support for the healing of other family members of the victims was also recommended by Wally Oppal.
“I myself suffered so much, because of what Robert Pickton did to my sister,” said Gagnon, who said she still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
She said the trial details were “the most excruciating and ugly thing I’ve ever heard of.”
Her brother Lance was following the Pickton trial. The testimony gave him nightmares, and he wasn’t sleeping. He suffered heart failure while sitting at a home computer, she said.
“He went to the court so much, and it took a toll on him.”
Chantler said he would like to see a follow-up announcement of some action to help these family members – “adult siblings and parents who have been through absolute hell in this process.”
He said government-funded counselling, and memorializing the victims seems appropriate.
Gagnon has attended trauma counselling, and said “I’m doing a whole lot better.”
Oppal also recommended more shelters and services for women on the street in both the Downtown East Side and throughout the province.
Chantler would also like to see more provincial action on that recommendation, noting there is a lot of work to do throughout the region.
“Surrey is woefully lacking in services,” he said. “I don’t know the status in Maple Ridge, but I’m sure it’s not as good as it should be.”