I work a couple blocks away from one of the nastiest parts of my beloved city, Vancouver, Canada. It’s like a whole other world when you stumble into the Downtown East Side, just two blocks east of my office, a place that held, in the early ’90s, the highest urban rate of AIDS and HIV infection on the globe.
People like me who’ve lived in this city our whole lives know more about the disenfranchised in that area, and I have my own speculations on how it’s gotten so out of hand, but I’ve never looked into it all that much.
Suffice to say that at that two-block point east of here, it’s like an invisible wall has gone up. People sleep on streets, heroin is shot in alleys, fights break out over drugs, and everything’s out of control.
This area houses most of the prostitution and all of the meth and heroin junkies in the city. The mentally ill who are deinstitutionalized run rampant in this hood, and I’m faced daily with heartbreak and hopelessness when I see how much work is left to be done to help all these impoverished, seemingly forgotten members of our city.
We’re beginning to get a reputation internationally for what’s largely gone unchecked in this city, and that saddens me, considering all else this city has to offer — the natural beauty, the unforgettable cuisine, the multicultural population, the sports, and more. What the world doesn’t see and doesn’t seem to understand is how stacked against success the odds really are in dealing with this travesty.
This city is a magnet for the nation’s homeless — even for America’s homeless. They all want to be here because the climate is so tolerable year-round and because the cops tend to empathize rather than penalize these impoverished people. After all, if you’re homeless, where would you rather be in the winter, the snows of Toronto and Montreal, where it can go far below freezing every winter, or in the temperate climes of Vancouver?
Add to that the fact that so many drugs land here in Vancouver, where an average of 150 million massive cargo freights pass through annually, where we barely have the staff to search them, and where drug laws are so much more relaxed than in America, and you have a ticking time bomb that no easy solutions will patch.
The world’s about to hear more regarding this harrowing part of Vancouver, though, with the release of a controversial new “fictional” horror film by Australian filmmakers that focuses on one of the most legendary bastards ever to live in this province. Robert “Willie” Pickton is facing trial for the brutal murders of 26 Vancouver-area prostitutes, but is suspected of killing more than 125 of these women over the course of 20 years. A pig farmer by trade, Pickton covered his ass well by having his pigs devour the corpses of these women. As a result, little DNA evidence was recovered by what was the largest criminal investigation in Canadian history.
I’m saddened by the news that the families of these missing and dead women will have to endure a film that will probably sensationalize these brutal murders. And while I’m further saddened by the continuing downward spiral of this incredible city’s reputation, perhaps international attention will finally convince both the British Columbian and Canadian governments that this absolutely is NOT a problem that can be solved by Vancouver’s government alone. Our cops are stretched as thin as cellophane and there’s no money to be had.
In less than four years, the world will be on our doorsteps when the 2010 Olympics unveil. And what will have happened to the disenfranchised and forgotten by then? God only knows, but many, including myself, suspect they’ll be shifted out of the downtown core, pushed off to the side just to become some other neighbourhood’s problem. Out of sight, out of mind, and, possibly, out of hope.
Tthe following lofty tome struck me as I was unable to get back to sleep with sunlight spilling through my cotton blinds. It rambles a bit, but indulge me. When I started this, the sky was filled with azure blue, birds singing, soaring, and the gorgeous sunlight I’ve been longing for. It’s an hour later, now, and merely a band of sunny light remains, splitting the now-gloomy onslaught of non-descript grey and charcoal clouds spreading out towards the east.
It’s a sunny morning, a rare thing here on Canada’s West Coast in this, the doldrums of winter. A news report out of Seattle yesterday commented that it was the 22nd consecutive day with rain, and though the morning has gotten off to a beautiful start, I expect that here in Vancouver, the pattern of wetness will continue by day’s end, if the weathermen have their shit right.
Weather’s something we don’t often look far into. Rain is rain, sun is sun, and you’re lucky when it’s the latter, right?
But there’s so much more to it. It shapes us, who we are, how we act. If one was to look at population densities, for example, here on Canada’s West Coast, we’re not nearly as populated as Eastern Canada. BC has a fraction of Ontario’s population. What, then, explains our absolutely disproportionate number of serial killers?
Vancouver’s one of the most beautiful places in the world in the summer, and in the winter, one of the dreariest. This past month hasn’t been an exception. The depression that spreads through this city is insane at this time of year, and makes one think of all the strangeness that unfolds at times.
This morning, I’ve been lying there, having been conscious of the sun’s upping for the last 45 minutes, thinking. Thinking at first about public sex, and how spring evokes for me that want to get outdoors and be active, but also the passion that comes with warm, fragrant spring nights and dewy grass with flowers on the cusp of blossoming. Despite those thoughts, I found myself remembering one Vancouver winter night years ago when a lover and I threw down my trenchcoat and had mad sex atop it on the muddy river banks of the Fraser, under a soaring giant oak tree, as torrential rains fell without relent. Yes, indeed, a true west coast girl.
But then I began thinking how my mood of late has struggled to stay up, as it always does in the dreary darkness of this season, and how connected our psychologies are to light, warmth, and weather. And I thought of how sex is one of the few activities one can really enjoy at this time of year, if they’re not into snowboarding or the like.
And I thought of those who haven’t the option of just acquiring a lover the good old-fashioned way, those who need to purchase sex. And how the continued need to do so must evoke some sort of anger or bitterness in the purchaser. To tell the truth, prostitution has been on my mind a lot thanks to a fascinating novel I’m reading about a 43”-high dwarf living in Ireland’s County Cork, a beautiful book with titillating language and brilliant observations, that will probably fuel at least a couple postings on this lowly rag of debauchery.
But I thought most about that absolute bastard, Robert Pickton, Vancouver’s notorious Pig Farm Serial Killer who’s presently facing charges, with a ban on the press, for the murders of 27 women since the ‘80s, though some suggest the fucker’s responsible for the deaths of up to 60 local prostitutes – all disadvantaged women from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, forced by life’s circumstances to work in the sex trade.
Pickton apparently lured these disenfranchised sex-trade workers to his home out in Surrey with the promise of drugs and cash, then brutally killed them after what are said to be lurid parties on his isolated pig farm, and fed them to his pigs. The recovery operation for DNA evidence on his sprawling farm and its troughs was one of the largest archaeological digs in Canadian history.
If you look at this part of the world, the beauty, the nature, the geography, it speaks mostly to being God’s country. Some years, the weather’s reprehensible, though, and you wonder what it does to people with less stability than someone like myself. I recall the year I spent living in the Yukon, where though the days were short in the winter, the sun would emerge daily and fill the air with the brightest, cleanest, most mesmerizing light I have ever seen. There, I’d met a lady who’d lived in Vancouver all her life and she said to me, “I just couldn’t fucking handle the winters anymore. The year I moved here, it was 45 days straight of rain. I felt like crying every morning by the end of all that, and nothing I could do would change my mood. I’ve never been so hopeless, so desolate…” She moved there, and had never felt that way again. I noticed that I had no depression that winter, a first for me in my life, and the only time I’ve escaped winter sadness since.
It’s no coincidence that off the British Columbian coast is one of the top 10 sailing destinations in the world in the summer… but the region was clearly discovered in the winter, since its name speaks volumes: Desolation Sound.
Pickton’s not the only legendary killer from this region, and not the only one to prey on sex trade workers. There’s the Green River Killer who worked not only in Washington, but occasionally here in Vancouver. A classmate of mine in elementary school, his sister was killed by the GRK. Robert Clifford Olson, another Vancouver man, killed 11 boys that they found, but he wanted authorities to believe there might’ve been dozens more, though he refused to cooperate on his alleged conquests.
The murders are disproportionate to the populations, and to the violence found here on the whole. We don’t get a lot of gun violence or random killings, with an average of 30 murders per year, with most of those being gang- and drug-related, but when it comes to serial killers, we’ve written the book. And nothing, for the life of me, can explain it away, except for the dark, dreary, depressing weather we get from October through to April.
So… though I should be sleeping a little longer, the notion of missing what may well be the only sunny morning for another week or two, and the first in more than three weeks, well, that’s just unforgiveable. My coffee’s brewing, and all my blinds are up, to soak in the little natural light I’ll see in the days to come.
I’ve touched slightly on the local sex trade in this posting, and it’s more just setting the scene for what will be a bit of a focus at some point in the next couple weeks. We prefer to think of the sex trade as escorts with standards and high-price call-girls, but here in Vancouver, with dozens of lowbrow prostitutes disappearing off our streets, dying horrific deaths, being fed to ravenous pigs, or other debauched means of disposal, I assure you… we’ve seen it all in a more dreary light. And my little wheels have certainly been turning. It’s another reason I felt I wanted to write on promiscuity last week, since all these things combine in a strange circle of life.