Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the Farm

Generally I make it a rule not to read two books of similar subject matter back-to-back.  I need to break up my reading so that there is variety and I don't get bored with reading the same genre.  I recently broke that rule after a fortuitous trip to the library.  I have been trying to take Stevie Cameron's recent book On the Farm for some time now and it has always been on hold or on the wait list.  I happened to be in the library and I thought that I would look for it, holding out little hope that it would be available.  Happily it was on the shelves and I got my grubby paws on it.   

Back to my original point about not reading two books consecutively which revolve around the same topics.  On the Farm and Missing Sarah both chronicle the story of the missing women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, albeit from totally different perspectives.  Missing Sarah is a personal narrative about Sarah de Vries, a prostitute who vanishes and whose DNA is later recovered from the Pickton Farm.  On the Farm is the overall story of the missing women, Robert Pickton, and the police investigation.  Cameron focuses on the narrative of the events, and profiles key players along the way.  This book is particularly relevant at this juncture in time, because of the Public Inquiry into the Vancouver Police Department`s handling (or mishandling) of the case.  

There were a number of points during the investigation that the VPD went wrong, most of which can be detected with common sense and hindsight.  The part of the investigation, which, in my opinion, was handled incorrectly was the hoops that the families of the missing women had to jump through in order to declare that their loved ones were Missing Persons.  By virtue of their lifestyles, many family members were given the brush off when they went to the VPD to tell them that someone had gone missing.  Though they had personal demons, these women could be counted on to regularly call their families, attend doctor`s appointments, and collect their welfare cheques.  Also, due to the amount of women vanishing, other members of the Downtown Eastside community were diligent about keeping tabs on one another`s whereabouts.  Still, families were told to wait, sometimes for months, to see if their family member would suddenly turn up.  After this waiting period, any leads as to where the person might be would have long gone cold.  Understandably, families grew frustrated with the double standard with which missing prostitutes were treated by the police department, and the subsequent inaction on their case files.  

The other frustration which appears in this book, is the inability of the VPD to act when Pickton had been one of the main suspects for years.  Kim Rossmo, a geographic profiler brought in to work on the case, pointed out specific traits that Pickton possessed, and he was totally ignored at that time.  Hindsight being what it is, there are a lot of people who regret not investigating Pickton more thoroughly earlier.  What angers me is that an officer did request a warrant to search the farm three years prior to Pickton`s arrest, but a judge turned him down due to lack of evidence.  Thus, from the standpoint of someone outside the law enforcement profession, it is difficult to not be angry while reading this book.

Besides the anger at those who did not aid the families of the missing women, one feels a lot of revulsion as well.  Cameron does not spare any of the details of the forensic findings in her book, and I will warn you that there are a lot of gruesome passages.  There were times when I needed to take a break because the horror of what was done to these women was just too much for me.  I don`t think that I am remiss in saying that if you feel you could get through those sections, you should reconsider reading this book.  Despite my declaimer, I do think that this is an important book to read for those interested in the case.  If you could get through the gory portions of the narrative, you would find this book to be a well-written account of the investigation.  It is difficult to communicate such a complex story, but Cameron manages to do so with thorough research and compelling writing.

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