What does Oppal's report mean for CJ?

Kamloops Daily News
December 20, 2012 01:00 AM

The report itself is 1,448 pages and details the long and painful history of many women, their fates at the hands of Robert Pickton and social attitudes and behaviours that inevitably enabled the serial killer's actions.

Former B.C. attorney general and Court of Appeal Justice Wally Oppal's voluminous effort concludes a lengthy inquiry into the deaths and disappearance of scores of women in the Lower Mainland.

At its core, Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is a recognition that society and the police did not do what was required to solve some murders and prevent others. To that end, Oppal made many recommendations he hopes will break down old attitudes and replace them with new ones.

While many commentators have focused on Oppal's criticism of the police investigations, the fact is Oppal's condemnation goes deeper and includes all of us. Oppal says the women were seen by society as "throwaway victims," a disturbing label.

"Would the reaction of the police and the public have been any different if the missing women had come from Vancouver's west side? The answer is obvious," Oppal said when he released his findings earlier this week.

The police did not do enough and the public was largely indifferent to the deaths and disappearances of so many women because the missing and the dead were poor or drug-addicted or living on the fringes of society.
Oppal's report must be seen as a damning indictment of public attitude as much as it a criticism of police inaction. Why did we not care more about the violent ends of so many? It's easy to say we didn't know but that answer comes up short - extremely short - when we consider how little things have changed.

We still don't care about those who live in the fringes and we don't need to look farther than our own community for proof.

In Kamloops, not more than three weeks ago, a 16-year-old Terrace girl was found dead in a ravine in lower Sahali not far from residential development. Somebody murdered CJ Fowler. We have no idea who or why and as a community, we don't seem to care.

We don't suggest the Kamloops RCMP is not investigating seriously. Numerous detectives worked hard in the days that followed the grim discovery and no doubt they continue to do so.

But investigators have not been forthcoming about what they know or don't know. There hasn't been so much as a single news conference dedicated to the investigation of CJ's death. But for one news release Wednesday, the scant information provided has come in the occasional media briefings, which also offer reporters news of car accidents and bar fights.

Yet, no one seems to mind. Why are we not screaming for answers about CJ's death, for her sake, her family's sake, and for ours? Where are the candlelight vigils and the social media outrage? Why are there no flowers and stuffed teddy bears at the place where her body was found? Is it because we don't see CJ as one of us?

Is the fact she was an "at-risk" teen from a distant community with a history of runaway children part of the issue? If CJ had been a blond-haired volleyball player from Kamloops secondary school, would our reactions be different? Would we be so calm?

As Oppal pointed out, sadly, the answer seems obvious.

It's not too late to recognize that our conduct in Kamloops is the same kind of public indifference that enabled a monster to prey on so many vulnerable women in Vancouver for so long.

We must not accept or forget that CJ's life ended on our streets. The public act of asking questions and expecting answers is important, and the key to the kind of change Oppal envisions in his report.

If people won't show genuine concern for the tragic, violent death of a teenage girl in a city like Kamloops, what hope can we have for the kind of broad systemic changes Oppal says are necessary to prevent Pickton's kind of abhorrent violence from being again visited on others?

Someone killed CJ. Who took her and why? We need to ask - and keep asking - until we have an answer.

We need to care.


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