Opinion

At the Pickton Trial: A Personal Notebook

Reflections of a former sex-trade worker who sat in the courtroom, day after day.

By Trisha Baptie, 6 Dec 2007, Orato.com

Trisha Baptie

Trisha Baptie: 'Empowered.'

[Editor's Note: For the past 10 months, two former Vancouver sex trade workers have been reporting on the trial of alleged serial killer Robert Pickton for the citizen journalism site Orato.com.

Trisha Baptie and Pauline VanKoll have produced exceptional coverage of the protracted and often gruesome trial. Baptie, 33, worked the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside between the ages of 19 and 26. She counted some of Pickton's alleged victims among her friends. What follows are a few brief excerpts of her reporting for Orato.]

Hard road and healing

I was sexually abused when I was younger, which should not at all be a shocker considering where I come from. I think most, if not all women and most boys involved in the sex trade, have been abused in some way. I will not go into details about it. Just suffice to say it happened more than once, but less then a million times, and it severely skewed my perception of life, men, myself, love and what it means to be a female.

Being in group homes was just like being in a criminal boot camp. So, at 13 years old, I was smoking, doing drugs, drinking, compulsively running away, committing petty crime, hanging out with a way older, rougher crowd, sleeping around and trying to escape the one person I never could: Myself.

I stayed in group homes until I was 16 years old, at which time, I had my first child and moved out on my own.

I got involved in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) through one of my "street" brothers when I was 19. I wish I could truly convey what it was that hooked me in down there, but I think it was mostly my addictions that were hooked and I got sucked in.

All I can say about my time down there is that I remember the violence. It was everywhere and permeated everything. I was in a nightclub with a girlfriend when a bullet took out the beer bottle on the table next to me and I didn't even flinch. I just was cranky that my shirt had got wet and now I smelled like beer.

Finding the words...

Nothing could have prepared me for the first day of trial and listening to the Crown describe how heads of victims were cut in half, how bodies had been mutilated and other atrocities I will let other media report. It was a physical blow. Somehow the words spoken became a tangible thing that hit me and left me gasping for air -- they left me reeling at the horror at what had been done to the women I used to work alongside on Vancouver's streets. . . .

While the officer in the video performing the interrogation was trying to build rapport with Pickton, he referred to a poster of the missing women and infers that they were just throwaways; he said they were selling themselves and that they "deserved it" and these kinds of things.

While I understand the officer was just doing his job, it hurt. Because I know that's how some people did think of the women. Hearing those words started a war within myself because I remember feeling invisible, worthless -- like a throwaway.

Learning to honour the police

I think my problem was that I never looked at police as people. They were the 5-0, PoPo, pigs and many other derogatory names. I had no use for the police, and quite frankly, most people who find themselves on the other side of the law think the same way I did.

This week, we have been watching the tape of Pickton in his holding cell with an undercover officer. . . . As we watched the tape, I was stunned by the change in Pickton's demeanor after he returned to the cell after being interrogated and found it very telling. It was almost like a light bulb had been turned on inside of him.

At one point, Pickton even waves to the camera and says hello. When Pickton used his fingers to gesture the number 5-0, it was absolutely bone chilling. He went on to say he'd be bigger than the Green River Killer (Gary Ridgeway admitted to killing 48 women in northern Washington), and that he planned to do another 25.

It is these types of people that our police officers work with every day. I cannot fathom what it was like for the first officer who came across the human remains when he went to serve the search warrant. How does one process that?

Ground zero: the Pickton farm

I cried. I don't mean I shed a tear; I mean my soul cried and mourned.

I stared at the dirt, which was left in huge piles after being sifted through by investigators -- the very soil that had held the flesh and bones of at least 26 women. It's a hard fact to come to terms with -- that so many women could have met their end here, and for years, no one in any position of authority did anything.

I think back on that time in my life when I walked the line with them, and I wonder what is so different about me now. If I went missing today , I have total confidence it would be reported; I would be searched for.

What is so different about me? Now that I am more "mainstream" and play by society's rules more, does this somehow magically give me more value as a person?

The Crown rests its case

We have sat through testimony from people Pickton once considered friends and from scores of police officers involved in the investigation also known as "Project Even Handed." We have looked at pictures of the farm, his messy trailer and heard all about his habits, personality traits and quirks.

We have heard more than I ever needed to know about the pig butchering business, as well as hearing about buckets with dismembered body parts, a witness Ellingsen, who says she walked in on Pickton skinning a woman, guns with dildos attached to them and furry handcuffs.

Some witnesses seemed to have something to hide. Others, like Scott Chubbs, seemed to want to tell the whole story, while people like Andrew Bellwood just seemed incredulous that he was even involved in this case.

My personal favourite was Sgt. Bill Fordy -- an amazing witness. It seemed he just had amazing character and skills as a police officer.

I have run the emotional gamut during this trial so far -- everything from being completely numb, to feeling anger and sadness mixed with feelings of survivor's guilt. But I've always ended up in a place of gratefulness, saying a quiet prayer that it was not me. . . that I was able to flee that lifestyle.

Where do I begin?

Thinking back on all the witnesses and all the evidence I am glad I'm waiting for 12 people other than myself to come to a decision about Pickton's fate. In some ways, I am more confused about what happened at 953 Dominion Avenue than ever. I have more questions than answers.

When I heard Judge Williams address my feeling in his charge to the jury, I felt my hope for at least some answers was buoyed. The judge instructed the jury that "It is not necessary for you to conclude that Mr. Pickton acted alone; you may find that Mr. Pickton acted in concert with other persons, although you may not know who they are."

This trial has challenged me in numerous ways. In the beginning it was coming clean about my past to everyone in my life and realizing that from here on in, my past, which I had so desperately tried to hide, would be just a Google search away for anyone.

It challenged my relationship with my kids. I had to be brutally honest with them and listen to their issues with my past, for I would not have done this without their "OK."

I have healed in ways that I doubt I ever could have any other way. . . . This whole experience has empowered me to embrace myself as a whole.

Most of all, I will remember my friend -- her laugh, her impulsiveness, her fantasizing a better place than where we were.

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