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Vancouver, Missing Women, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Highway of Tears, Aboriginal Women, Violence Against Women, Robert Pickton, Collective Violence, Criminal Justice System, Critique, Murder


Women are disappearing. Sixty-nine of them disappeared from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver between 1997 and 2002. Northern communities in British Columbia believe that more than 40 women have gone missing from the Highway of Tears in the past thirty years. The endangered do not come from every walk of life. Most of these women are Aboriginal. Many of them are poor. To be more precise then, poor women and Aboriginal women are disappearing. Aboriginal women in particular are the targets of an irrefutable epidemic of violence in Canada today.

Robert Pickton is thought to have murdered almost 50 of the women reported as missing from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver between 1997 and 2002. The criminal prosecution of Robert Pickton involved an 11-month jury trial, two appeals to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, 12 million dollars in defence counsel legal expenses, a two million dollar upgrade to the New Westminster courthouse, nine million dollars in Crown counsel expenses, 12 million dollars in judicial/trial support and management costs, and 76 reported judicial rulings. This paper, through a combination of discursive and doctrinal analysis of these 76 decisions, examines what was (not) achieved by the Pickton trial. It discusses three areas: the judicial representation of the women Pickton was prosecuted for murdering; the implications of the jury’s verdict in the Pickton proceeding and; the impact of the Pickton trial on the families of the women he murdered.

The paper starts from the premise that it is correct to characterize these murders as a product of collective violence. Colonialism, political and legal infrastructure, and public discourse – and the race, class, and gender based hegemonies that these processes, institutions, and practices hold in place – produced a particular class of vulnerable women, the police who failed them, and Robert Pickton. The paper concludes by suggesting that the outcomes of the Pickton prosecution both highlight the limitations of the criminal justice system and offer an analytical framework for examining other institutional responses (such as the Missing Women’s Inquiry) to the kind of collective violence that gave rise to the Pickton circumstance.