While some aboriginal activists like Gladys Radek would have you believe no one cares when young aboriginal women like Simone Sanderson meet a violent end, nothing could be further from the truth.
"As far as they are concerned it's just another dead Indian. Enough is enough. We want justice," Radek recently remarked to media covering a rally organized to protest the controversial plea bargain orchestrated by serial killer Shawn Lamb.
Her comments express a belief firmly entrenched in the minds of many aboriginal people.
That's because aboriginal leaders and activists constantly feed the victimization mindset and fuel the racial divide by constantly spewing racist rhetoric designed to deflect ownership and responsibility.
On Sept. 2, 2012, Sanderson's body was found in a North End alley near the intersection of Main Street and Burrows Avenue. At the time of the gruesome discovery, Sanderson had been reported missing for a week. Police subsequently revealed Sanderson was a drug addicted sex-trade worker who plied her trade in the area where her body had been discovered.
Investigations into the killings of drug addicted sex-trade workers are laborious, difficult undertakings that often go unsolved. While the Gladys Radeks' of the world prefer to believe these cases go unsolved because of systemic racism and lack of police interest, the hard facts point to a number of other conclusions.
SUSPECT POOL: Most murder cases are often solved because investigators are able to establish a narrow suspect pool. That is not true in cases involving sex-trade workers. Sex-trade workers who work the streets of Winnipeg are accessible to hundreds of potential killers by virtue of their need to make their sexual services available to strangers. Exposure to "stranger danger" is one of the primary causes of homicide when it comes to sex-trade workers and was one of the risk factors identified by the investigators working on Project Devote.
All 20 homicide cases and eight missing person cases investigated by Project Devote were linked by one factor -- the victims were all living a high risk, dangerous lifestyle that included substance abuse, transient lifestyle, involvement in the sex trade or participation in hitchhiking.
INABILITY TO ESTABLISH VICTIM TIMELINE: Drug addicted sex-trade workers are notorious for living life in the 24/7 substance abuse cycle. These women forgo normal human needs like food, sleep and close familial relationships. They become virtual slaves to their drugs. Nothing else matters to them. As a result, they simply come and go at all hours of the day or night. Family members often lose touch with them and report them as missing persons. The majority of these women simply show up to recuperate after falling off the edge of the earth, their minds blown from drug abuse and sleep deprivation.
In the majority of investigations involving the murder of sex-trade workers, the cases are already cold by the time the homicide unit receives the file. In Sanderson's case, the file went to the homicide unit seven days after the victim had been reported missing.
INABILITY TO ESTABLISH MOTIVE: Motive in a homicide case is an extremely important piece of the puzzle. When it comes to the murder of drug addicted sex-trade workers, establishing the motive can be as difficult as narrowing the suspect pool. Was the killer a John, a drug dealer, a gang member, a fellow sex trade worker or some other random player.
LACK OF WITNESSES: Sex-trade workers do not work 9 to 5 and are seldom killed during these hours. These women are often picked up in the darkness of the night and transported to industrial, remote or less travelled areas where their business is conducted. These women are often killed in isolation. As a result, few people ever witness the murder of a sex trade worker.
Sex-trade workers also tend to associate with people who are involved in the sex trade or in street gangs, the drug trade or other nefarious undertakings. These are not the kind of people who are inclined to co-operate with law enforcement when it comes to providing information to break a case. Most people who associate with sex-trade workers struggle with their own substance abuse issues and are trapped in the same vicious 24/7 drug dependency cycle.
OUTDOOR CRIME SCENES: Most sex-trade workers are killed outdoors, and this presents significant challenges to crime scene investigators as they offer little in the way of forensic evidence that might break a case. The opportunity to lift fingerprints in an outdoor crime scene is remote. There are no beer bottles, telephones, hard surfaces, furniture or paper items present to dust for prints. Forensic investigators examining outdoor crime scenes rarely find cigarette butts, liquor bottles or any other items to swab for DNA.
The truth is the police work these cases with the same intensity and commitment they bring to every single case they encounter. That's why 90 per cent of all homicides in the city over the last dozen years or so have been solved.
It's important for aboriginal leaders to take the time to educate themselves regarding the complexities of homicide investigation when it comes to the world of the sex-trade workers. If they took that time, I'm confident we'd hear less claims of racism and indifference.
In the meantime, the problem persists.
If we know drug addicted aboriginal sex-trade workers are being killed as a result of living high-risk lifestyles then why aren't we doing something about it?
Why haven't aboriginal leaders and activists started to partner with the police, Manitoba Justice, mental health professionals, AFM and social services to set up intervention teams to take these women off our streets before someone else does?
A wise man once said, "Don't focus on the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye while ignoring the plank in your own eye."
The difficult search for Simone Sanderson's killer continues.
James Jewell is a retired Winnipeg police officer. Follow his blog at thepoliceinsider.com