SURREY MISSING WOMEN’S NETWORK: Pickton case led to changes

Police have relied on Surrey Missing Women’s Network since 2007

Surrey Women’s Centre director Sonya Boyce (right) and Surrey RCMP Sgt. Holly Turton.

SURREY — Twenty-five years ago, when Sonya Boyce began volunteering in transition homes for women fleeing abuse, she was taught a hard and fast rule: Never, ever tell anyone the identity of its residents.

Not family. Not police. Not child protection services.

“It was a brick wall,” she recalled, sitting in her office at Surrey Women’s Centre in Whalley where she now serves as executive director.

“But for good reason.”

Protecting the anonymity, and thus safety, of women and children fleeing violence was of utmost importance. Though necessary, that made it hard for police to carry out missing person investigations in these cases.

Today in Surrey, things are a little bit different, thanks to the Surrey Missing Women’s Network. Though not highly publicized, Boyce said the initiative is making a big difference.

The network began in 2007 during a time when RCMP were integrating lessons learned from the Robert Pickton case, the infamous Port Coquitlam pig farmer who was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women.

Dozens more women went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside during the early 1980s through to the early 2000s, which led to the creation of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

“(Former B.C. Attorney General Wally) Oppal talked about the need to increase communication and co-operation between law enforcement and community-based agencies,” Boyce said.

In Surrey, that advice was taken and the network was born.

Today, Surrey RCMP utilizes the network several times a week said Sgt. Holly Turton, officer in charge of Surrey’s Vulnerable Persons Section, which includes the detachment’s Missing Persons Unit. Last year alone, Surrey’s MPU dealt with 2,334 files.

Included in that number are women and children fleeing domestic abuse who are reported missing. Sometimes, that report is made in an attempt by their abuser to find out where they are.

When abuse is suspected, the Surrey Missing Women’s Network springs into action.

Police contact the Surrey Women’s Centre, which then sends out an alert to more than 200 people, all who are likely to come into contact with women fleeing abuse.

When a woman is located, police are notified and the case is closed. Her location is only revealed if she gives the OK.

Turton said the network is a godsend.

“It’s an exceptional idea,” she remarked. “Missing person investigations are very laborious. There’s a lot of investigate steps to locate people, especially when they don’t want to be found. What I found was that this really alleviated some of those issues.”

She acknowledged the issues that coincide with transition homes sharing the identity of its tenants and said the network “gets around that for us.”

It also saves police resources, freeing up man-hours to work on other missing person cases.

“Typically our policy is to go and confirm the well-being of somebody,” she explained. “But when we hear from the Surrey Missing Women’s Network that the person is safe, we don’t need to go to that transition home to have that meeting.”

Another benefit is it’s less intrusive for women in such situations, noted Turton. And, if transition homes are in covert locations, police don’t give it away by having to visit the home.

“The things that we’ve been able to accomplish together have been absolutely amazing,” said Turton.

Boyce agreed.

“If and when (a victim of abuse) needs police and support, we want to make sure she picks up the phone.”

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

 

Just Posted

Semiahmoo students to raise awareness about acid throwing

The Grade 11 students are to host a fundraiser for victims

Maritimers bring taste of Atlantic Ocean to South Surrey

Maritime Seafoods owner says they cut out the middleman

VIDEO: Surrey Vaisakhi Parade floods Newton streets

Hundreds of thousands of people attended the annual event

Easter ‘eggstravaganza’ event planned for South Surrey

Event is to run from 12-3 p.m. at Dufferin Park (17355 2 Ave.).

Four Surrey students head to New Brunswick for Canada-wide science fair

Three projects move to nationals following regional fair at KPU

‘No answers:’ Canadians react to Sri Lanka bombings that killed hundreds

The co-ordinated bomb attacks killed at least 207 people and injured 450 more on Easter Sunday

RCMP confirm witnesses say body found at Kelowna’s Gyro Beach

Police tape is blocking part of the beach and several RCMP officers are on scene.

Police say ‘no major incidents’ at 4/20, Vancouver Park Board assessing

The first smoke-out held since legalization saw 60,000 people at Vancouver’s Sunset Beach

VIDEO: Langley firefighters spend hours battling blaze in vacant home

Cause of the late-night fire in Willoughby is still under investigation

B.C. fire department rescues kittens

Enderby homeowner not aware kittens in wood pile near garbage pile fire that got out of hand

RCMP looking for witnesses to four-vehicle crash in Burnaby

Police suspect impaired driving was a contributing factor

QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Take this short quiz and put your knowledge to the test

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Most Read