It took courage to tell her sister’s story and brought the room to tears.
For Sandra Gagnon, the experience was cathartic.
Testifying at the Missing Women Inquiry was the last step in a long journey for justice for her youngest sister, Janet Henry.
“I am really relieved it is over,” said Gagnon, a day after a four-volume report investigating the disappearances of 67 B.C. women was released.
“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Titled “Forsaken,” in homage to women, the report found “blatant” police failures and a systemic bias against the poor, addicted women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside allowed serial killer Robert Pickton to prey on them for years.
Gagnon reported her sister missing 15 years ago, on June 25, 1997. To this day, she believes her sister was killed on Pickton’s Port Coquitlam pig farm, although there has been no conclusive DNA evidence, just a partial trace.
Henry’s story is told in four short paragraphs in the 1,448-page report.
“Janet Gail Henry was a loving mother a loving friend. She loved her daughters dearly,” Gagnon told the commission.
“I know my sister didn’t like the kind of life style she was living. She tried hard to change by going to treatment centres. She had good intentions. In fact, she told me not too long before she went missing that she wanted to change her life.”
In the 15 years since her sister disappeared, Gagnon has fought hard to keep her memory alive. She has been in constant contact with investigators, peppering them with phone calls every few months, in the hope of any news.
This year, though, with the inquiry underway, Gagnon and her family finally bid farewell to Henry with a ceremony in Alert Bay.
Henry, who belongs to the Namgis First Nation, lived in Maple Ridge before drifting to the abyss of the Downtown Eastside.
“I have done all this for my sister’s daughter,” said Gagnon, explaining she promised her niece that she would try her best to find out what happened to her mom.
Commissioner Wally Oppal specifically mentioned Gagnon during a press conference last Monday, thanking her and other families for sharing their heart-breaking stories.
“The missing and murdered women were forsaken twice,” Oppal said in the report. “Once by society at large and again by the police.”
The former attorney-general noted the fragmentation of policing in the Lower Mainland led to multiple failures, including uncoordinated parallel investigations and the failure to share key evidence.
He recommended an expert panel develop a proposed new regional policing model and implementation plan.
Gagnon is satisfied with the report and wants to see Oppal’s 63 recommendations implemented ,but isn’t optimistic about that possibility.
“I want change,” she said.
“But you can’t trust the system.”
Forsaken – The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry