Monday, January 22, 2007

The Invisible People

Now that one of the most sensational trials in Canada's history is underway, that of accused serial killer Robert Pickton, we ought to regard the problem of invisible women and men once again in our society and resist the temptation to stray off into what will most likely be a multitude of diversions - such as the National Post's story today about the trial's impact on local businesses - which do a disservice to the scores of women Pickton is accused of killing.

Much has been written in the past about the negligence of the Vancouver and Edmonton Police departments to adequately investigate the disappearances of these women because of their societal status - whether that is based on their race or their lifestyle. We need to ask ourselves, in the case of dealing with prostitution, why johns are still protected in too many instances by being graced with anonymity thus placing sex workers in even more danger and we need to address the broader issues, as Libby Davies points out, that revolve around poverty, lack of adequate addiction treatment resources, the relationships between police forces and sex workers and overall societal attitudes towards women and men in conflict.

It's been said again and again that if the women who had gone missing had been stereotypical suburbanites, a public panic button would have been pushed immediately. There is no denying that. The women in the Pickton and Edmonton cases were expendable to a society that is too often loathe to value them as persons and that is reflected in how our law enforcement agencies treat their disappearances and deaths as well.

Having worked with the homeless, men and women alike, I know that dealing with the tragedy that surrounds their forgotten lives is an immense uphill battle. But, where it begins and where it ought to begin in wider society, is to treat every single person with the respect they deserve simply for being human because the larger tragedy occurs when we are unable or unwilling to extend that compassion to those who suffer. We simply cannot function as a caring society if we refuse to acknowledge the so-called 'worst' among us (and, believe me, in terms of humanity many of them shine much more brightly than those public officials we like to put on pedestals of morality every day).

We must stop viewing such people as discarded trash. Why are our lives worth any more than theirs?

Perhaps if we honestly address that question, we can avoid such horrendous injustices in the future.

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