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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book Review: Missing Women, Missing News: Covering Crisis in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Review: Missing Women, Missing News: Covering Crisis in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

By: Christine Smith McFarlane

As a Canadian and as a First Nations woman, it tears at my heart to think that we have a Prime Minister who doesn't seem to care about finding a solution to the issue of our missing and murdered sisters, and ignores the pleas of the public to do something to stop this.

Whats even more infuriating is that there was an immediate dismissal of a federal parliamentary committee's report on Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women.  In light of this action by Stephen Harper and the Conservative government, I thought it would be integral and timely to review the book "Missing Women, Missing News: Covering Crisis in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside," written by David Hugill.

Though published in 2010, this book can still be seen as a timely critique of how mainstream media adheres to a dominant "commonsense" narrative framework that rationalizes the victimization of people on the margins. Whats also clear is that the women that went missing from Vancouvers Downtown Eastside were residents of a stigmatized inner city neighborhood, sex workers in the bottom rungs of Vancouvers street level sex trade, drug users or poverty stricken members of an increasingly stratified society that was either rendered invisible to, or cast aside from, the core constituencies that are served by our collective institutions.

Can you imagine, if these women were from areas other than Vancouvers Downtown Eastside? Or if it was happening in Richmond Hill or Forest Hill in Toronto? There would be a call to action right away, but instead we have numerous collections of reports that state the police decided to view these women as transient sex workers, and drug users, and that most of the missing had not really disappeared and that the women would eventually show up again.

The view that these women didnt matter has prevailed and it shows a culture of disinterest and disregard. It shows in our police departments, mainstream newsrooms and legislative chambers and our women have been disappearing with a marked frequency for two decades. Its not ending.

Author David Hugill presents a critical analysis of the print coverage surrounding the Robert Pickton trial, but also has you wondering how something like this can be happening in Canada. He states in Canada, where rates of violent crime remain comparatively low, murders and abductions can generate significant media attention and mobilize impressive deployments of the resources of law enforcement agencies," events like these disrupt widely shared perceptions of what is expected of Canada as a country."

The events that unfolded in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, however cannot be considered aberrational. The very disappearance of so many women-sustained over such a significant period points to a very different and scary reality. It demonstrates a brutality and predation that has become a norm in the Downtown Eastside, let alone all over Canada.

Vancouver's crisis of missing and murdered women generated very little interest before 1998, and few outside of the neighborhood took notice as the crisis began to spiral out of control. Hugill presents the missing person case of Lillian O'Dare, who was just 34 years old when she disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 1978 and juxtaposes it with the case of a missing teenager in Toronto and asks "what then was different about what happened in Vancouver? Why did the disappearance of a single teenager in Toronto-a tragic but definitely isolated incident marshal vigorous police and media campaigns while a far more expansive series of tragedies in Vancouver was for a long time met with state inaction and media silence?"

As Canadians, we are all familiar with the media frenzy that exposed the failure and incompetence of individuals within the police force and the state. We have read about the over 500 missing and murdered women and how there's been little done in regards to solving an issue that obviously goes beyond a socio-political context.

Reading this book leaves you wondering Is it okay to ignore the continued workings of colonialism, racism and patriarchy in Canadian society? I would suggest that it isnt and that the issue of our missing and murdered sisters has gone on long enough, and something needs to be done so that this can be stopped.

Missing Women, Missing News: Covering Crisis in Vancouvers Downtown Eastside is a critical book that needs to be read by everyone. It may be a difficult read, but it opens your eyes to a critical analysis and coverage that should be offered to our Missing and Murdered sisters.

Missing Women, Missing News: Covering Crisis in Vancouvers Downtown Eastside is published by Fernwood Publishing and is 111 pages. It is written by David Hugill. 

(This is a cross post I wrote for the First Perspective-

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