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The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver – Canada's poorest urban neighbourhood – hosts the world at the Olympic Games in February. The people in this old Skid Row don't have much in terms of material things, but they have more than their share of murder and mayhem. As many as a hundred women, most young and aboriginal, have gone missing from these dirty streets in the past two decades. Dozens of them have been murdered.
Life in the Downtown Eastside can be harsh, but the residents are fierce about remembering the dead. They hold an annual memorial march for the missing and murdered women every February 14, Valentine's Day. After a huge prayer circle that shuts down the intersection of Main and Hastings at the steps of the fortress-like police station, grandmothers in full native regalia lead the hours-long march beating drums and singing the Woman Warrior song as they tour the neighbourhood and remember the women who are gone.
Now the Olympic Security police are trying to shut down the march. February 14 is Day 3 of the 2010 Olympic Games, and Hastings is a main Olympic traffic route and therefore part of the security zone. No demonstrations will be permitted there. The RCMP and VPD are trying to change the march route or cancel it completely while the Games are on.
A special kind of anger is reserved for the police in the Downtown Eastside. A special kind of rage can build up over years of insults and abuse from beat cops and mounted bulls. That rage nearly boiled over during the years when authorities refused to acknowledge the "epidemic" of women disappearing from the neighbourhood. And the residents know why. Most who vanished were aboriginal and female (two strikes), and most of them were also sex workers. So their lives were not worth as much as a Vancouver City Councillor's, for example. People who got too vocal and public about demanding an investigation got beat up by police, say organizers.
Now the cops are going after the memorial march itself, the one day each year when people join together and call for justice for their missing wives and sisters and mothers and daughters. Security zone or not, police don't want grandmothers marching past the television cameras singing about how the police would not help them find their daughters until it was too late. They don't want to hear the mothers repeat (as they do every year) that they knew a serial killer was on the loose but police wouldn't take their reports. They don't want to see the children holding up the portraits and hear the grandfathers reading the names and telling each woman's story while the whole world watches. They don't want the embarrassment.
And that's all these women are to the security police – an embarrassment. They know nothing of honouring the dead. They know nothing of honouring the living. They know nothing of justice. That is their shame.
The people of the Downtown Eastside are survivors. They have little to lose. Watch what happens if police try to take their traditions.