Friday, August 27, 2010

The Invisible People

Robert Pickton’s evil deeds challenge every value we humans hold dear. They transcend the essence of humanity, and raise some troubling questions. If one of us can perpetrate this kind of evil, how many more Robert Picktons walk among us? And if they do, how do we stop them? How does a community protect itself?
Leaks from the inevitable probe into the initial police investigation are helping us understand how Pickton was able to wade in blood for so long. Even after Pickton’s name surfaced as a suspect, police and prosecutors chose not to act because potential witnesses were drug-addicted prostitutes and therefore not credible witnesses.
Today, it’s easy to point fingers at the cops and prosecutors and want to hold them accountable for their professional actions and inaction. Yet they are but the canaries in the coalmine providing us with a signal of a deeper societal issue.
I remember a sunny day on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton not too long ago. A friend- let’s call him Ed- and I were having a chinwag and a coffee when we saw one of Edmonton’s aboriginal street women staggering past our outdoor table. “That breaks my heart”, I said. Ed’s response shocked me. “I don’t really notice them”; he said.
There are a lot of “Eds" out there. Many of us living in “respectable society” do our best to ignore those in our communities who remind us of our human frailty. We stay disengaged and silent on the issues of addictions, prostitution, and homelessness. Sadly, some stay mute even when their own loved ones live rough on the mean streets of our inner cities. These women and men are truly “invisible people”.
Some of us might say, "What can I do? This is a huge societal issue that one person, no matter how well meaning and skilled, cannot resolve. I focus on those issues on which I can make a difference”.
While commendable, that pragmatic stance doesn’t resolve the issues of drug addiction, prostitution, and violence against women that are at the heart of the Pickton rampage. Those issues won’t stop until individual citizens in communities engage the issues head-on.
Where do we start? For starters, we can increase our individual financial support for those blessed souls already in the field working with the vulnerable. Next, we can truly engage and join them in their work by lobbying politicians and policy-makers at all levels for new approaches to address the issues of homelessness and addiction.
Our politicians must understand that fine-tuning the status quo will only result in more dead women at the hands of the next Robert Pickton. We need multi-disciplinary strategies rooted in understanding and compassion rather than dogma and punishment.
Next, we can come together as active, committed, and engaged communities across Canada and recognize that those street people are our brothers and sisters. We can begin conversations- without judgment or blaming- with those vulnerable people. What do they value? What are their needs?
We must act now, for the next Robert Pickton could already be stalking his prey. I see those “invisible” people he preys on. Do you?