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I am Missing - Keeping Families Together Society

Miscellaneous News
Mother of troubled, drug-addicted former teen shares her story in hopes of educating others
High school students go gangbusters on public-service videos

Alberta MLA proposes new missing persons bill

Saanich police unveil new response protocol for calls reporting missing youth
Women’s Memorial March honors victims, families

Alberta MLA proposes new missing persons bill

By Ann Harvey, Editor

MAYERTHORPE - Legislation introduced in the Alberta legislature by MLA George VanderBurg of Whitecourt-St. Anne will make it easier for police when they search for mission persons.

Helping families locate loved ones who have been reported missing must be a priority for our police service," said VanderBurg. "This legislation will provide another tool for investigators to bring these cases to a quick and positive outcome.

In a phone interview on Wednesday, March 2, the MLA said Bill 8 the Missing Persons Act is simply intended to allow police to find people and determine if they are really missing or have left and don't want to be found, "Right now police agencies in Alberta such as the Edmonton Police Service, the Calgary Police Service and the RCMP have about 10,000 missing persons reported each year.

"If the police suspect something criminal has occurred they can get a court order to access bank accounts, phone records, credit card records and debit cards – everything.

But, let's say we have a parent suffering from dementia who walks away from a lodge.

"We can't find the parent. Everybody in the community looks for them. They've gone missing so we call the RCMP.

"There's nothing criminal. They've just walked away down to the Greyhound station. They're travelling somewhere. They don't know where."

Right now police would find their hands tied, he said. "If they could access bank records, or any of those things that might help locate someone, they could find out the (missing person) went to Grande Prairie."

This isn't hypothetical or unusual, he said. "This is what's happening.

"In Edmonton right now there's an elderly couple who went missing without a trace. The Edmonton Police Service does not have access to their records because they don't suspect anything criminal.

"So can you imagine (the feelings of) the family, the loved ones. They haven't been found. That was just before Christmas."

VanderBurg said the solution is to give police the option of using their investigative tools.

"If the legislation was in place, the police would access all that information."

That does not mean they would interfere in instances in which people want to stay missing, he said. ""You and I have a right to go missing and not be found."

In a case in which a person, perhaps the son of the person reporting, simply wanted to leave and not be found, that person tells that to the police. "Then the police contact the reporting person and they say: 'Your son is not missing. We've contacted him.'

That's all they say."

VanderBurg said Bill 8 was devised at the request of police.

"A year ago the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution at their spring conference asking the government to pass this missing persons legislation."

The act was developed by Alberta's Safe Com (Safer Communities) in partnership with the RCMP, Calgary Police Service and Edmonton Police Service.

VanderBurg said he was asked to carry the bill by the justice minister "because we have had in Whitecourt-Ste. Anne some high profile missing persons.

"They thought I could relate with this legislation and get the personal side across."

That included the RCMP finding the motorhome of a missing St. Albert couple has been found by the RCMP.

The couple — Lyle Thomas McCann, 78, and Marie Ann McCann, 77 — left on vacation on July 3, 2010, and were expected to arrive in Abbotsford, B.C. soon after. They never arrived.

In another case about 18 months ago a young girl who had been kidnapped was found in this riding, he said.

Vanderburg said Bill has been introduced in the House (of Commons) and has had first reading.

"That gives me the authority to speak to the press and opposition parties."

On March 2 it had second reading a debate was adjourned, the MLA said. "Now it will give an opportunity for everybody to get involved in the debate."

Although this is a government bill it isn't certain it will pass, he said. "We've introduced bills and not passed them before."

But, he said, "I'm very hopeful."

Saanich police unveil new response protocol for calls reporting missing youth

By Kyle Slavin - Saanich News
Published: March 01, 2011 10:00 PM

A tragic death last year has prompted Saanich police to change how they respond to calls from a psychiatric facility that treats distraught teenagers.
An internal review following the death of a 16-year-old patient at Ledger House last December found that the department could improve on its former policy.
The review, overseen by Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, found that Saanich police responded appropriately to the report of the missing youth.
"Given the information we received at the time through our call centre and the best practices and policies in place at the time, our response was within those parameters," Sgt. Dean Jantzen said. "There was no direct causal link or nexus to anything done by one of our employees or officers that could be any way construed as contributing to the death of this youth."
At 5:36 p.m., Dec. 19, 2010, police received a call to their non-emergency line from a staff member at Ledger House about the missing teen. The call was "captured, categorized and triaged," but police were busy dealing with an attempted murder and didn't send an officer to the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children's Health until after the teen was found dead on a nearby beach.
That call would now go straight to on-duty staff sergeants who will determine whether the call should receive higher priority. "Dispatching of missing youth calls will now take place immediately … That's not specific to Ledger House – that's any missing youth in our community," Jantzen said, adding that doesn't necessarily mean an officer will respond right away.
The change means the responsibility of setting response priorities will land with officers, rather than civilian call-centre employees.
Police receive about 20 missing youth calls from Ledger House each year. In an effort to ensure both sides clearly understand each other, the two parties created a co-ordinated assessment protocol to help determine the urgency of the response.
"We were up front (with the caller) about the fact that our response was going to be delayed. Given the fact that there was no immediacy or real sense of urgency conveyed to us, we responded as we felt was appropriate," Jantzen said. "What they might consider to be something routine, we may view as something that requires a more immediate response, or the inverse. There's constant assessment going on once information has been received."
Ledger House is run by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, which is still in the midst of its own internal review. However, the centre has already changed its policy, said VIHA spokesperson Shannon Marshall.
"What they've done is rewritten the protocol so it's a more visual representation of the steps and guidelines on the initiation of the procedure of what happens when someone is found missing," she said.
When a youth is reported missing from Ledger House, staff will call the police emergency line and fax an unauthorized absence form detailing the individual's risk to police.
Saanich’s new response to missing youth – between the ages of 12 and 18 – is above the provincial standard, which categorizes those calls as routine rather than requiring immediate attention.
B.C. Coroners Service and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth in B.C. are investigating the death and could also make recommendations.
The teen’s death was the first inpatient client death in Ledger House’s 23 years of operation.


Women’s Memorial March honors victims, families

Article printed from speakeasy:

By Valerie Taliman, Race-Talk contributor, via Indian Country Today,

In honor of Women’s History Month and the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8th, ICTMN debuts Navajo writer Valerie Taliman’s new series on the growing human rights crisis in Canada where more than 600 Native women are missing or have been murdered. More than half of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples are women, and for most, the world is a difficult place. Indigenous women bear the brunt of violence, war, poverty, homelessness, poor health, disease and a lack of access to education and employment opportunities. In the United States and Canada, statistics indicate one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime. Aboriginal women in Canada are five times more likely to die from violence than their peers of other races. In the her new series, Taliman examines government policies that remove women and children from their homelands, force them into assimilation, and ultimately strip them of their rights to land, culture, and basic human rights.

VANCOUVER – Hundreds of people turned out in heavy rain for the 20th annual Women’s Memorial March to honor the memories of Canada’s murdered and missing women, shutting down traffic and drawing crowds as they wound through the streets and alleys on the Downtown Eastside, stopping to perform smudge ceremonies at dozens of locations.

Led by women elders and little girls singing the Lil’Wat Women Warriors’ song, the march retraced the route where dozens of women have been found murdered or were last seen over the last two decades. Elders carried sage and eagle feathers, while two small girls carefully dropped red and yellow rose petals – red for murdered women, yellow for those still missing. Marchers paused for a press conference at the Vancouver Police Department and continued to the totem pole in Oppenheimer Park, when a candlelight vigil was held and prayers were offered.

Since the 1970s, more than 3,000 women are known to have gone missing or been murdered in Canada, the majority of which are aboriginal women. In the past year, at least 11 more women were found murdered or reported missing, putting the documented number at more than 600 Native women, based on statistics from a recent study by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Those women left behind 75 children, and extended families that miss and mourn them daily.

Women’s Memorial March

“There’s a war on women going on. They’re stalking our women and children,” said Marlene George, one of the co-chairs of the Memorial March committee. “We’re here to honor and remember our women, and because we’re failing to protect women from the degradation of poverty and systemic exploitation, abuse and violence. We’re 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.”

Ten women died in the Downtown Eastside over a span of 11 months, including Ashley Machisknic, a 22-year old Native woman from Saskatchewan who was thrown from a fifth floor window and died in an alley behind the Regent Hotel in September 2010. Carla Marie Smith, was found brutally murdered in Burnaby on February 7, 2011, and only three days before the march, Nikita Jack, 23, of Surrey was reported missing by her family.

Machisknic’s brutal murder last year rallied the community to action. “People think her death was a message to the women from drug dealers, but when it happened the police immediately closed the case and said it was a suicide,” said Bernie Williams, a longtime advocate for DTES women. “We had to push them to get them to reopen the case.”

In Canada, First Nations women are five times more likely than other women to die as a result of violence, prompting the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to cite Canada’s failure to adequately respond to the crisis in a 2008 report.

“The memorial march helps keep the focus on the women and their families, and it’s fundamentally important that as leaders we support this effort,” said Grand Chief Ed John of Tl’azt’en Nation, who is serving a three-year term on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “The organizers and the families do an excellent job advocating on this issue, and have consistently kept our leaders informed. Through their efforts, we have been able to collectively convince the provincial government to establish a public inquiry on the missing and murdered women.”

The first memorial march was held in 1991 in response to the murder of a Native woman on Powell Street in downtown Vancouver. Her name is not spoken today out of respect for the wishes of her family, but her cousin, Kelly White, points out that it is now the longest running march in recent Canadian history.

“When I stood alone on the corner of Main and Hastings with my drum 1989, I never imagined there were so many missing and murdered women within our communities,” said White. “It was just a handful of us in the early years, and people actually threw things at us from passing cars. But we kept going.”

In 1990, a half-dozen women marched down to the police station with hand drums and sang the Lil’Wat Salish Women’s Warrior song for four hours. “Some of our group went to speak with the police to tell them about the rampant violence and murders, but they didn’t want to meet with us,” White said. “We asked why the hotel and bar owners were not charged when these are the same doorways and back alleys where our women have been dying for decades. We got no answers. We’ve been battling this ethnic cleansing for over 30 years in Vancouver.”

Out of this sense of hopelessness and anger came an annual gathering to express compassion for the families who collectively mourn and honor their relatives every Valentine’s Day. They gather somberly at the Carnegie Center before the march, bonding over the loss of their daughters, mothers, sisters and aunties, and speaking of their memories while holding photos of loved ones. Many relatives travel long distances from other provinces to share this day of ceremony, prayers and traditional songs for healing. For some, it has been years of waiting for answers and justice, while others are reeling from the anguish of recent deaths.

The recent revival of the Robert Pickton case was particularly painful for those who lost their daughters to the serial killer who claimed responsibility for murdering 49 women. A national inquiry is underway to examine police misconduct and mishandling of the Pickton murder investigations following the release of an official report that faulted police for releasing Pickton from custody. He then went on to murder another 13 women before he was apprehended again.

Angela Marie MacDougall, director of Battered Women’s Support Services, criticized the limited scope of the Missing Women Inquiry that will examine the conduct of police investigations in the DTES from Jan 23, 1997 to Feb. 5, 2002.

“We’re likely to have the shortest inquiry in history. It captures a point in time when we had a prolific serial killer. However, it does not capture the realities of many women we know went missing or were murdered going back to 1986 and before. Nor does it include all the women missing along the Highway of Tears between Prince George and Prince Rupert.”

In the face of unending violence, the Memorial March Committee is seeking standing at the provincial government’s controversial Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, scheduled to begin later this year. The recent appointment of Wally Oppal to head the inquiry commission has a drawn sharp criticism from family members and advocates given Oppal’s decision while he was Attorney General to not proceed with additional murder charges.

“While the government has finally established an inquiry which we have demanded for years, we have not been consulted or involved in any meaningful way about the purpose or scope or terms of reference. We are seriously questioning the integrity of this inquiry as well as Commissioner Wally Oppal,” said Carol Martin, a victim services worker with the DTES Women’s Center.

In its 20th year, organizers hosted a series of events for two weeks leading up to the memorial march including film screenings, educational events, art installations, DTES women’s poetry, and a music night of all-stars who donated their performances to honor the women’s leadership in the Downtown Eastside. This year, marches were also held on February 14 in at least ten other cities including Victoria, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, and London.

“After 20 years of raising awareness, we’re finally working as a coalition with the Vancouver Police Department to stop the violence and get these predators off the streets,” said George, noting that change comes slowly.

“The women we remember may not be with us today, but we cannot let their struggles be forgotten. Every life is precious and we continue to work for justice by sending a strong message that sexual violence will not be tolerated.”


High school students go gangbusters on public-service videos

Inspired Killarney secondary classes produce four of 10 finalist entries that 'all share a powerful common message'

By Kim Bolan, Vancouver Sun March 5, 2011

 When Killarney secondary teacher Jonathan Friedrichs got his film classes interested in the Teens Against Gangs video contest, he helped them do some real-world research.

He contacted Const. Doug Spencer, a gang expert, and former Vancouver gang associate and Killarney grad Jonathan Wong to come and talk to the students about their experiences.

"They gave an amazing powerful presentation," Friedrichs said Friday. "It made everything a little deeper. A lot of themes I saw also were directly from the presentation."

And it paid off. Four of the 10 finalists in the contest are from Killarney secondary. Other finalists are from Richmond high schools -- Hugh Boyd and Hugh McRoberts -- and from east Vancouver's Templeton secondary, Burnaby Central, Queen Elizabeth secondary in Surrey and West Vancouver's Mulgrave School.

Hundreds of students worked on more than 50 entries in the contest, sponsored by The Vancouver Sun, CBC, the Gang Task Force and Taxi Advertising.

The finalists, who produced 30-second public-service announcements about the risks of gang life, were announced Friday. The three winners will be selected next week by a panel of experts. Each winner will get a $1,000 prize.

Friedrichs said he was thrilled to get the news about his student filmmakers doing so well.

"It is fantastic. I am very, very happy about that," said Friedrichs, who has taught at the east Vancouver school for four years.

"One of the entries was made by first-time film students so they worked really hard on it."

Some of the students used animation to get their message across.

Several, like the McRoberts rugby team, got a group of people together for their video.

And some finalists, like Surrey's Marc Apduhan, did the project by themselves.

Sgt. Shinder Kirk, of the Gang Task Force, said he was amazed by the creativity of the teens who entered.

"I am very pleased that young people embraced this," Kirk said Friday. "The videos are beyond great. Not only have they told the story of the ramifications of getting involved in a gang, but have shown in a subtle way what the other side of the coin is -- what it means to stay out of a gang."

There were strict criteria against the use of replica guns, as well as other restrictions, but the students figured out better ways to get their message out, Kirk said.

"I was utterly amazed by the ingenuity and creativity shown by the actors and the producers. More importantly, they truly portrayed the message we are trying to get across that getting involved in a gang could cost you your life," he said. "This really is in its purest form peers talking to peers. And that is what we set out to achieve when we held this contest."

Sun deputy managing editor Harold Munro agreed.

"The quality of the entries is impressive. It was difficult to narrow the list to 10 finalists," he said.

"Students embraced the anti-gang message and clearly invested many hours in their videos. Some of the special effects are very sophisticated. I found myself watching some entries over and over, trying to figure out how they did it."

David Jang, of the CBC, helped make the finalist cut.

"The CBC is thrilled with the quality of the student entries," he said. "The PSAs are dynamic, innovative and clever. Each entry is unique and yet they all share a powerful common message that we know will resonate with people across B.C."

The winners will also get their videos aired on a CBC newscast, Jang said.

"Our hope is that these PSAs will be a catalyst for conversation among youth on the real dangers of gang activity."

Read The Real Scoop at

See the TAG finalists at:

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


Mother of troubled, drug-addicted former teen shares her story in hopes of educating others

Raising awareness about sexual exploitation

Mother of troubled, drug-addicted former teen shares her story in hopes of educating others

 - A public service announcement for Stop Sexual Exploitation Awareness Week explains why some youth are sexually exploited. - Submitted photo illustration

A public service announcement for Stop Sexual Exploitation Awareness Week explains why some youth are sexually exploited.

March 7, 2011
Meagan Robertson

The story of Diane Sowden and her daughter is enough to give any parent nightmares.

When her daughter was 13, Sowden was like any proud parent of a daughter who earned straight A's, had a zest for life and was a bit mature for her age. Little did she know that the three-month summer between Grade 7 and 8 would send Katie into a downward spiral for the long term.

This is the story of a family that failed to save its child from great suffering – not because it didn't care, but because the courts, the social agencies and the law of the land wouldn't let them.

“In 1993, when my husband and I were first quickly educated about the whole issue of child prostitution, we were shocked at the lack of knowledge or support,” said Sowden.

Sowden and her family lived in Coquitlam in a pleasant upper-middle-class enclave. In 1993, their 13-year-old daughter started experimenting with drugs.

“Katie was a really bright girl. She had straight A's at school and was very mature for her age, so she really didn't fit in with Grade 7 boys and was very much interested in older teenage boys,” she said. “She thought she was smarter than them and that she would be able to keep herself safe.”

Sowden said Katie ended up “dating” a 27-year-old who, as Sowden later learned, was known to police.

“He started to manipulate her into disappearing on the weekends, she got involved in illegal activities with him [sexual intercourse] and was introduced to drugs,” said Sowden.

“Within a very short period of time she was addicted to crack cocaine.”

Sowden said it all happened so fast — “from the time she started disappearing and connecting with him to the time she had an actual drug addiction was about three months.”

The free drugs quickly became a drug debt and she owed her “boyfriend” a substantial amount of money.

“By that time she had already left the family home, she was disconnected from her friends, school had gone back for the next year and she didn't,” Sowden said.

Katie was then “sold” to a pair of older men in Vancouver to cover the drug debt and began working the streets in what used to be called the Kiddie Stroll.

“She was actually sold to someone for the drug debt,” Sowden said. “It's human trafficking.

“I keep trying to make everyone understand what human trafficking is, because we're all concerned about human trafficking on a global level and not understanding it's happening to our girls in our own communities.”

The Sowdens reported their daughter as a runaway. The police said they could do nothing. Because people knew where she was, she wasn't missing.

Then the parents went to social services to argue that the girl was in need of protection. Social services turned them away, because their daughter didn't want help, and because she had a supportive family to return to if she wanted.

“They said it wasn't that she needed protection, it was bad behaviour,” Sowden, adding that child prostitution wasn't identified as child abuse until 1999.

Then Sowden's husband did what most fathers would do and tried to physically grab her off the street and take her home. The police warned him not to try it again, or he and Diane Sowden might be charged with confining a child against her will. Sowden said they would have risked it, but they had their other children to worry about.

Seventeen years later, Sowden regrets that decision.

“If you spoke to Katie today, she would say she needed someone in authority to say, ‘No, you can't do that,'” Sowden said.

“And if that meant holding her against her will, she says that was needed.”

Still on the street at age 30, Katie's attempts to get clean over the years have failed time and time again, and she has given birth to five crack-addicted children.

“It's like a Hollywood movie,” Sowden said. “It doesn't seem real — but this kind of stuff happens.

“She's come off and gotten clean over the years and then relapsed. She moved from smoking cocaine to smoking heroin to injecting heroin.

“The impact is unbelievable on family, on society and on the individual — the consequences are so severe.”

Sowden said that's why it's important to teach prevention, so much so that she was inspired in 1995 to launch Children of the Street, a provincial society and federally sanctioned charity dedicated to preventing the sexual exploitation of children and youth in B.C.

In light of the approaching Sexual Exploitation Awareness Week, Sowden came to speak with Sea to Sky service providers during a workshop last month at the Squamish Library. She emphasized the importance of growing awareness early on and connecting exploited youth with support groups.

Stopping the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth Awareness Week is March 7 to 13 in B.C. The week recognizes the importance of supporting communities to develop prevention, education, enforcement and intervention strategies to address the sexual exploitation of children and youth.

This year is the 13th annual sexual exploitation week. Fuchsia-coloured ribbons will be distributed throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor to promote awareness.

The ribbons are fuchsia coloured to symbolize efforts in preventing sexual exploitation of youth and children — fuschia is a combination of red for red light districts and purple, the provincial colour for violence prevention.

Andrea Sentesy, Sea to Sky Free From Exploitation (SAFFE) project coordinator and children and family counselor at the Howe Sound Women's Centre, attended the workshop and emphasized the importance of the issue in the corridor.

“SAFFE is a prevention and education project,” she said. “We go to the schools and do workshops on sexual exploitation in Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Mount Currie.”

In 2007, SAFFE conducted a survey in Squamish that found 73 per cent of youth age 12 to 18 had experienced some form of sexual exploitation, mostly in the form of older men offering them free drugs or alcohol.

“It's hard to make teenagers realize what's happening because a lot of them don't see it as sexual exploitation,” Sentesy said. “They just see it as, ‘It's cool that this older guy's paying attention to me' and they don't necessarily think about why he might be giving her free booze every weekend and inviting her to these parties with these older guys, and paying all this extra attention to you and buying you nice things.”

She said there are different forms of sexual exploitation. The form that Sentesy sees the most in the Sea to Sky Corridor is unhealthy relationships.

“It is sexual exploitation when there are those big age differences,” she said. “If it's a 14- or 15-year-old dating a 25-year-old and he's providing her with things that she needs in exchange for sexual favours, especially if she's homeless or has been kicked out of her house, then that's not a regular relationship.

“That's sexual exploitation and a criminal offence because she can't legally give her consent to be in that relationship, and that's in place to protect minors.”

The legal age of consent in Canada is 16, although until 1999 it was 14. Sowden played a large role in rallying independent MP Chuck Cadman to get that changed.

Sentesy said it's sometimes hard to change the general public's image of sexual exploitation.

“Here in the corridor it's not girls walking down the street like on the Downtown Eastside,” she said. “That's a whole other sort of form of exploitation and there are recruiters that come to Squamish and Whistler to try to get girls into the sex trade and onto the street, but it starts off smaller than that.”

Wesley McVey, Sea to Sky Youth Justice Services probation officer, deals with youth integrated in this type of scenario on a regular basis. He said sexual exploitation covers a wide range of situations.

“It's from one end of the spectrum with the girl who has too much to drink and is taken advantage of to a systematic, habitual way of getting drugs or other substances from older people in exchange for sexual exploitation,” he said.

“Often young people between 12 and 17 have much older friends they often consider boyfriends — they often don't realize they're being exploited. They're getting their needs met and they don't realize that those needs should be met in other ways.”

He said the key is getting youth to recognize that the trade exists and that they're being exploited, which allows them to get in touch with the right support systems.

The workshop also focused on the intensified issue of predators luring young girls and boys into the sex trade via the Internet.

“People need to understand that the problem is much more underground because of the Internet,” said Sentesy. “Whereas it used to have the face of the prostitute or the girl walking the street, now it has the face of hidden behind a computer screen.

“Just because you can't see it happening doesn't mean it's not happening.”

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