I saw my friend Archer Pechawis’ performances last night, including Elegy, which made me cry. It’s about the missing women, Cris Derksen reads out the names and birthdates of the women while he lights a candle for each one. And it’s so simple, but after about seven candles when he just kept lighting more and more the weight of how many women died becomes so clear. About 65 women went missing or so. And I also started thinking about people I knew who worked low track at some point during the murders, and just realizing how scary it was, especially when my lover started hitting the stroll during all that happening.
And it’s weird to listen to the media talk about these women, blaming them for being murdered because they were using drugs, like if they’d just stopped using drugs they wouldn’t have been sex workers anymore and they would have gone on to live regular lives. It’s creepy and simplistic. And this idea that these women were transient and no one noticed them going missing. BULLSHIT. When I moved to Van in 1996 people were talking about the missing women, people were agitating the police to actually get off their asses and do something about it. I remember when protests were being held because there was only one officer assigned to the case for YEARS. And sex workers call their moms like anyone else. Just because they’re doing sex work doesn’t mean they’re cut off from their communities. These women are like anyone else, they have friends, family, lovers, they don’t have only johns and the police in their lives, that’s such a dumb idea.
I also have to say something about the media depictions of the downtown eastside right now, and you’ll see it a lot if you’re watching trial coverage. All the shots are those goddamn drive by camera shots. And it makes these women look more like people for sale than if the footage was shot in a more honest way. Right now it’s all John-cam footage. The downtown eastside is different if you’re gathering footage on foot, the way most of the people in the area travel. That all being said, there are some HUGE issues around taking footage of the downtown eastside and I personally don’t even film there, and won’t, ever. I was a camera person for a film school friend and we were right at Main and Hastings and it was awful, the crew had to talk the director into leaving. If you really want to get good footage of the downtown eastside, you have to give your camera to the residents and let them shoot it for you, and they will, they’re very conscious of having a hand in the creation of images of their neighborhood. Rebecca Belmore has some really amazing things she does to approach marginalized communities to either get footage or do performance work in those areas. You can be ethical about it. But I don’t think a lot of the international press are aware of these issues. Really, someone should do a workshop for the press about the particular ethics and informal regulations of filming in the DTES.
I guess I’m worried about the DTES folks. It was such a long struggle to get justice, and while I don’t think this trial will get justice for these women irregardless of the verdict (because I don’t believe Pickton was a solitary agent), I think it’s opening up more avenues for the exploitation of the people living in that neighborhood. WISH is doing some good work trying to protect the women working by giving them information on their rights with the media and so on. It’s such a vulnerable neighborhood though, and now the whole world is staring at it. I am especially worried because some of those women are going to be exposed as sex workers to their families and so on. Apparently one woman had her full name and the illegal drugs she used published in a major newspaper and her family saw it, and she really just didn’t know that could happen. I really hate hearing about stuff like that, and I know it’s going to keep happening.