Word that RCMP are digging up another farm for human remains in British Columbia has sent chills through the ranks of advocates for Canada’s murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
“It’s like the Pickton thing all over again,” said Lorelei Williams, whose aunt went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “It’s an awful feeling.”
Belinda Williams disappeared 40 years ago, while Lorelei’s young cousin Tanya Holyk is believed to have been murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton, a pig farmer whose Port Coquitlam property yielded DNA of many missing women.
News of another potential crime scene – this time in the north Okanagan – is stirring up strong emotions.
“There’s a feeling like you want your loved one to be found but then you don’t,” Lorelei said from Vancouver Tuesday.
RCMP from the Vernon-North Okanagan detachment have been at the scene south of Salmon Arm in the B.C. Interior since Oct. 19. They released a statement about the human remains on Oct. 21.
A number of woman have gone missing in the area in the past 19 months: Caitlin Potts, Deanna Wertz, Nicole Bell, Ashley Simpson and Tracy Genereaux. Two of the five has been publicly identified as Indigenous women.
The property is owned by the Sagmoen family and is located at 2290 Salmon River Road and RCMP were seen using a dog team and backhoe there.
“I’m just a person and if I can do that anyone can,” Leon said Tuesday of helping the families. “We have done two searches so far. Police can always use more resources.”
Potts, 27, disappeared on Feb. 22, 2016; Simpson, 32, disappeared on April 30, 2016; Wertz, 46, disappeared July 19, 2016; Genereaux, 18, vanished May 29, 2017; and Bell, 31, was last seen Sept. 2, 2017.
Leon, of the Splatsin First Nation, said an unidentified woman first reported Sagmoen to police, prompting RCMP to release a bulletin on Oct. 13 warning area women in the sex trade to be on their guard, and asking for the public’s help in an investigation.
It’s another similarity to the infamous Pickton case, which spawned a lengthy and expensive public inquiry and apology from Vancouver police for ignoring reports of missing women from the Downtown Eastside.
Pickton is serving a life sentence.
It’s an evil déjà vu for Bernie Williams, an #MMIWG advocate from Vancouver.
“Pickton could have been arrested back in the 1990s if they would have listened,” she said. “I’m so angered by this. Why was this not brought out sooner?”
Williams was in Winnipeg, Man., last week for the third stop of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and Girls. She heard grieving families testify about losing faith in the work of police, specifically the RCMP.
“If you are not outraged then you’re not paying attention,” she said of Canada’s list of more than 1,200 victims.
Meanwhile, RCMP in Smithers announced they have suspended their one-week search for 53-year-old Frances Brown, who disappeared while out picking mushrooms on Oct. 21.