I’m about to put the finishing touches on my latest work-in-progress, Off The Grid. This story takes place in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which is infamous for being Canada’s poorest postal code. I loved writing this story. I love the characters, especially Marnie. But it really started with my fascination of the setting. It called to me from the first time I became aware of the reputation of the Downtown Eastside (DTES). At the time I had no idea I would craft a story set in Vancouver. But as I look back, I realize it all started with my book club and a selection I never would have chosen to read on my own.
That book was Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister by Maggie de Vries. Sarah’s remains were never found, only trace amounts of her DNA. It also meant she was a victim of the worst serial killer in Canadian history, Robert Pickton. Sarah was a sister, a daughter, a writer, a poet. She loved and was loved. She had hopes and dreams. She also happened to be a prostitute and a drug user living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. de Vries’s book is her tribute to her sister. It’s also brutality honest. It is sad. But in the end I cared about Sarah as a person, as a sister. Before I read this book I knew less than nothing about Canada’s vanished and murdered women. I’ll always be thankful I read it. It gave me a new perspective, a new way to look at stories about lost sisters.
And now I do care.
February 14th Annual Women’s Memorial March is held on Valentine’s Day each year to honour the memory of women from the Downtown Eastside who have died due to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual violence. Now in its 22nd year, the march brings courage and commitment to remember and honour murdered and missing women, and to end the violence that vulnerable women in the DTES face on a daily basis. Women’s Memorial March Many cities across Canada now hold their own Women’s Memorial March. Check your city for details.
“We are here to honour and remember the women, and we are here because we are failing to protect women from poverty and systemic exploitation, abuse and violence. We are here in sorrow and in anger because the violence continues each and every day and the list of missing and murdered women gets longer every year,” says Marlene George, Memorial March Committee organizer.
February 14th is also a day for dancing. One Billion Raising to stop violence against women around the world.
Because of gendercide and sex selection abortions. Because a child should never be forced into marriage. Because a college student should never face the horrors of being gang raped on a city bus. Because women do not go ‘Missing’. Because of statistics that suggest 70% of murdered women are killed by an intimate partner. They are murdered by people they know. Assaulted by people they know. Stalked by people they know.
When we demand the right to be safe and free from violence, we demand equality.
A heartfelt and, unfortunately, sad post, Karyn! I am always amazed at the violence women face in this day and age – when we know better. And the statistics in Canada, where we should know better and do better, are appalling. You mentioned Vancouver and Picton, but Winnipeg has its own issues with women disappearing from downtown streets, Halifax has had a few cases in the past two years of women murdered, and then there’s the Highway of Tears in Northern British Columbia. Things have to change!
It’s not a happy story but Valentine’s Day is an excellent day to remember change does indeed need to happen. To actually have a stretch of road labelled the Highway of Tears is appalling. The good news is we have the power to effect change!