Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Task Farce?

A homemade ornament of Claudette Osborne adorns a tree set up at the Legislature yesterday.

As of October 19, 2010 a document to formalize the integrated task force for missing and murdered women has not yet been completed. This means that technically the task force does not officially exist. However, I interviewed five RCMP officials, who assured me that the task force, with it's nine full-time members, exists. It's just like a "common-law marriage" one of them told me.

(To read the full story I wrote about this in the Winnipeg Free Press click here.)

I don't doubt that the task force exists in the non-formalized capacity. In fact, I suspect that the members assigned to the 84 cold cases, have a great deal of passion for their work and for bringing justice to these missing and murdered women. However, they are working under the guise that this task force is legitimate. It's not. In fact, from a legal standpoint, this task force doesn't even exist. There are no official documents, no annual budget, no accountability and no transparency.

It's a slap in the face to the memory of these women, to their families and to the officers who are working hard to try and solve these cases. The province has had more than 15 months to formalize this task force, and yet they still haven't. Being a "common-law" entity is not good enough when it comes to this issue.

Yesterday, at a ceremony at the Legislature, Premier Greg Selenger addressed the audience comprised of families of victims, media, politicians and supporters. He said that he stood in solidarity with these families, and even assured everyone that the task force is "up and running."

At the same ceremony family members spoke out about how they have not been contacted by task force officials, and they questioned its very existence.

How can this relationship even be considered one that stands in solidarity?

While I get that many of the things that involve the task force must stay under wraps for fear that if exposed it will compromise the investigations into these cases, however these families still need something more than the Premier's word. (Which I might add, has lost credibility since it has been discovered that the task force isn't official.)

The bottom line: Our province needs to start taking this issue more seriously. If the officials in charge can't bother to legitimize something so crucial as this task force, perhaps it's time to elect new ones.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Feds announce $10-million for missing women

The Feds have pledged to spend $10-million to help find missing women. Awesome.

IT was announced yesterday that the feds will spend the money on a number of initiatives, including setting up a new central missing persons coordination centre, and internet tip site, and upgrading the police Information Centre database, across the country, with more information about missing person cases

"The government is promising money for what it calls "culturally appropriate" victim services across the country as well as funding for aboriginal groups to help the families of missing and murdered women."

So what does this mean?!

Well, it's hopeful. However, we've been through this before with the announcement of the Integrated Task Force (Between the RCMP and the Winnipeg Police Service) in August of 2009.

In the year since the task force has been formed, there has been very little transparency about the functions and roles of what this task force really does and what standard they are held accountable to. -- To my knowledge they have still not released an official list of missing and women, nor can I find a mission statement about the force.

I am not trying to discredit any good work that may be getting done, but the lack of transparency by the Winnipeg Police Service and the RCMP is certainly frustrating.

At any rate, the new initiative by the Feds seems promising.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Missing Manitoba Women: Bernie Smith speaks out

Bernie Smith, sister of missing Manitoba woman, Claudette Osborne-Tyo, speaks out at a vigil on October 6, 2010.

Missing Manitoba Woman: Claudette Osborne-Tyo

A candid photo montage of missing Manitoba woman, Claudette Osborne-Tyo.

Photos provided by: Matthew Bushby and Candy Volk
Song: Broken by Seether and Amy Lee

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What the Mayoral Candidates have to say about the problem of missing and murdered Manitoba women

CJOB's Mayoral Debate at Red River College: Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I asked mayoral candidates Sam Katz and Judy Wasylycia-Leis to discuss what they would do, if elected, about the issue of missing and murdered women in Manitoba.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Matt and Claudette: The girl, the cough and the start of everything.

The following story is part one of a series of stories about Claudette Osborne-Tyo as told by her fiance, Matt Bushby

It was in Winnipeg's North End, on Magnus Avenue and Aikins Street, that Matt Bushby first met Claudette Osborne-Tyo. Walking on opposite sides of the street, both were heading for the same corner store.

"I'd seen her around and always thought she was attractive," confesses Matt. "There was just something about the way she walked and carried herself. She was all woman."

It was around 3 p.m. on February 15, 2005. The heavy snow that had blanketed the streets for months had turned into greyish slush that seeped into Matt's shoes as he walked. Matt paid little attention to his sopping feet as he was too preoccupied with the girl across the street. She looked tired and a little haggard, he thought, but her beauty still shone through her matted hair and heavy eyes. She began to cough, and Matt suddenly found his opportunity to strike up a conversation with her.

"She was coughing, and it sounded terrible," he says. "So I yelled across the street 'that's a terrible cough' and she said 'yeah, I know. I'm dying.'"

He called her over to come and talk to him. She crossed the street and he introduced himself. Finally, he thought, he'd initiated conversation with the pretty girl he'd seen around the neighbourhood so often.

Her name was Claudette, and she was extremely charming. She told him that she was heading to the store to buy some Halls lozenges because she couldn't shake this cough. If anything, she told him, it was just getting worse.

"I told her that Halls weren't going to do anything for her cough. It was too bad" says Matt.

She said she knew that a package of Halls was an unlikely cure to her cough, but she had to try something. She was desperate to feel better.

When Matt asked her where she lived, she told him that she was staying at a friends place in the area, with a bunch of people who had been smoking crack and drinking heavily for days. She wasn't from the city, she was somewhat of a drifter. She told him that she had spent the last five years moving back and forth from Norway House to Winnipeg, staying with friends and family members.

This time she had been in the city for a few months; she came in for a doctors appointment after Christmas and ended up staying with an ex-boyfriend until recently. She said things quickly became violent between the pair and she managed to escape the situation.

She was sick and exhausted and she just needed to sleep.

"I offered to let her stay with me, since I was living in a big four-bedroom house by myself," said Matt. "She just looked at me and asked, 'are you serious?'"

Matt told Claudette that he would give her track pants and a t-shirt to sleep in, and put a lock on her bedroom door. The only stipulation was that her friends were not welcome in his home.

She agreed, and the pair headed to the store together.

When they got back to his house Matt showed Claudette to her new room. She asked if she could take a shower before she went for a nap. Matt obliged, and got Claudette a towel and showed her where the washroom was.

He sat in the living room, watching the Discovery Channel and waiting for Claudette to get out of the shower. Time passed, and he started to wonder if there would be any hot water left for him. Still, he didn't want to be intrusive, so he waited for Claudette to emerge.

Finally, after more than 45-minutes, Matt decided to see if everything was ok.

He wandered to the washroom, it was empty. He then went to Claudette's room, it was also empty. He checked the other rooms in the house, finding no signs of the girl, until he went into his room-- Snuggled underneath the blanket on his bed was Claudette; and she was out cold.

"She slept for like three days, only waking up for cough medicine and other meds," says Matt. "She never left, we pretty much started dating after that."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meeting Matt

Matt Bushby with fiance, Claudette Osborne-Tyo in an undated photo
When I first met Matt Bushby, he wasn’t at all what I expected him to be. Sitting across the table at a Tim Hortons restaurant in Winnipeg, Bushby is articulate, well spoken, and confident. He makes no excuses for the aspects of his life that have been publicly aired in the media since his fiance, Claudette Osborne-Tyo, went missing in the early morning hours of July 25, 2008, and he certainly doesn’t hold back when he tells their story.

“Claudette was very much a pawn of the system,” he says, as he fiddles with his extra large coffee cup.

With a far off look in his eyes, as though he is reliving a time gone by, Bushby begins to tell me about Claudette. In what is only our second face-to-face meeting, the conversation flows easily; Bushby is candid and speaks freely about the sorted details of his spouse.

Almost instantly he acknowledges the so-called ‘white elephant’ in the room -- Claudette's widely reported crack addiction and her involvement in the sex trade.

"What she did to support her habit was not part of our relationship," he explains. "I accepted Claudette and her addiction with the understanding that we couldn't be together if, and when, she was using (crack). But, I never judged her for it. -- I never called her names, or called her down...She had enough of that in her life."

Bushby says that the media portrayal of Claudette is inaccurate. He admits that she had an addiction problem, but says that the media's emphasis of that part of her life failed to show that she was also a kind and caring wife and mother.

“Dirty laundry sells,” he says. “For the media to label her in that way, it’s really disheartening. It’s almost like their legitimizing the events that occurred.”

Bushby describes Claudette as a private person and a homebody, who kept up to date on current events and who had a "well formed opinion on everything from the Gulf War to local issues."

"She was like a sponge for knowlege," he says. "She wanted so badly to be educated."

He still gets emotional when he speaks of his “soul mate.” He carries her photo and a handwritten love note in his wallet, and says that he has some pictures of Claudette that he will not be posting on the Internet or in the media, so that no matter what, their children will have a piece of their mother that nobody else has.

Sitting at the corner table in the now empty Tim Hortons restaurant, over three hours had passed since we started talking. The conversation has been emotionally exhausting for both of us, yet we both agree that Claudette's story needs to be told properly.

Bushby confesses that he's wanted to write this story for a long time, since the 21-year old disappeared, but he says he doesn't have the writing ability. 

“She was so beautiful, she deserved the role of wife and mother,” he says, as he gets lost in his memories. "She was so much more than they portrayed her."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Start...

I started this blog as a year-long school project.

My original goal was to write a book about the growing number of missing Aboriginal women in Manitoba. However, through the process of preparing for my project (meeting family members of missing women; attending vigils, concerts, events and rallies; researching old news archives, etc.) I've discovered a number of things that have become instrumental in this blog.

The book I wanted to write: My instructors loved the idea for my book. However, they but thought it would be better suited for a blog. "The stories aren't finished," one of them told me. True. Plus, a blog allows me to circulate this information to a wider audience for free!

Missing Aboriginal women became Missing and Murdered Women: I went back and forth on the decision whether to write about all women, or only Aboriginal women.

Since I am part Aboriginal, I knew that I would have a different perspective than a non-Aboriginal person would have. I also understood that this particular problem (in Canada) affects more Aboriginal women than non-Aboriginal women. However, when it came down to deciding who to write about, I realized that I couldn't exclude someone just because they didn't fit into a racial or cultural parameter that I had set up.

When a woman goes missing, no matter what colour her skin is, her family still aches. That's what is important.

In wanting to humanize these women, I realized that I too had to let go of my preconceived ideas: When I pitched the idea for this project my biggest argument was that I hated the way these women were portrayed in the media. I said that I could do a better job of telling their stories, because I would put my heart into it and give these women (Many who have been deemed unworthy of our attention based on the labels they've been given) a human face.

I honestly thought that I was open minded, and didn't cast judgement on these women (or their families) based on certain aspects of their lives.

However, I startled myself when I realized how shocked I was to meet Matt Bushby (Claudette Osborne-Tyo's fiance), and discover that he was so smart and nice. -- I had just assumed, based on how Claudette was labelled a crack-addicted sex-trade worker in the media, that he would be different than he was. (As brutal as it sounds, I went into this wondering what kind of guy dates and has children with a sex-trade worker. After learning about Matt and Claudette, I realize now that it is someone who is far less judgemental and ignorant me. Thank you Matt, for unknowingly showing me what I should have already known.)

What is this blog going to do?: Honestly, I don't have great hopes that my blog is going to solve these cold cases, or reunite these women with their families. No, I am not that naive.

I simply created this blog to tell stories and raise awareness about these women and their families.

Style: This blog will not be written in formal journalistic style. Yes, I'm a journalism student, but I already broke the cardinal rule of journalism (staying unbiased) by becoming too emotionally involved.

This blog will contain my own thoughts and experiences as well.

Please read, pass on the link, and consider opening your mind and your eyes about these all too common stories.

Thank you.