Monday, March 14, 2005

The Missing

According to the Globe and Mail, about 40,000 people are reported missing in Canada every year, yet only a slim minority are the victims of foul play. Most are runaway kids, adults leaving their partners, or older people who have gone wandering.

In recent years, much media attention has been focused on the devastating disappearance of 69 women from Vancouver's East Side. Most of those unfortunates were members of the sex trade. They were poor, drug addicted, and homeless. Many had been sexually abused as children and had grown up in foster homes. 17 of the missing women were Native Americans and two were mixed racial heritage.

The Native Women's Association of Canada estimates that approximately 500 native women have gone missing in the last 20 years. Those numbers have been disputed by other sources, but the consensus is that a disproportionate number of native women have disappeared. Needless to say, these women have not received the kind of publicity that has been showered on well-to-do, white women across North America such as Laci Peterson or Chandra Levy.

The tragic murder of little Cecilia Zhang from Toronto did get a lot of press. However, the disappearance of five-year-old Tamra Keepness from Regina did not. Tamra, who was poor and Native, went missing in July of 2004 and still has not surfaced.

For several years in a row, we were inundated with television news about missing women and children. Laci. Chandra. Lori Hacking. Elizabeth Smart - stolen right out of her bedroom like Cecilia. Samantha Runnion. Danielle Van Dam. It was almost as though there was a Bermuda triangle that was just waiting to swallow up unsuspecting women and kids. Of course, most women -- and men for that matter -- who disappear do resurface again. Only a small percent are victims of murder but that is little consolation to the families of these women and children.

Back in 1996, an acquaintance of mine disappeared. Her name was Louise Ellis. I was the co-coordinator of the David Milgaard Support Group and Louise was an advocate for David. She fell in love with a jailhouse snitch by the name of Brett Morgan, who testified at the Milgaard Supreme Court trial. Morgan shared a cell with Larry Fisher, who was finally convicted of the crime with which Milgaard was erroneously charged. Morgan claimed that Fisher had bragged that he had killed a woman but someone else was doing the time for it.

Louise admired Brett for testifying on David's behalf. Although Brett was a self-avowed murderer, who had strangled a prostitute by the name of Gwen Telford in Edmonton, Louise believed that Brett had reformed. She fell in love with him and worked tirelessly to get him out of prison early. She took him into her home. She gave him a chance at a new life. Nine months later, Louise disappeared. I joined a search team to look for Louise with her good friends, Ron Pouillot and Brenda Wagman, and my closest friend, Cathie Soubliere. We worked together with the Carleton University Womyn's Centre and the Ottawa Police.

Louise's remains were found on the forest floor of Wakefield, Quebec three months later. I never fully recovered from Louise's death even though she and I were not close friends. We were simply acquaintances but we talked on the phone regularly for two years. When she died, I was shocked, deeply saddened and outraged. The whole time that Louise was missing, Brett Morgan was active in the search for her. I met Brett and it was difficult to know how to treat him.

Since I was working in the field of wrongful convictions with my Milgaard group, I didn't want to assume that Morgan was guilty without any proof. However, he had already killed one woman, and male partners are also the first ones that we suspect when a woman disappears out of the blue.

I've been a social activist and a freelance writer for many years. Up until recently, I've always written non-fiction but my lingering preoccupation with the passing of Louise Ellis, and my rage and sorrow at the loss of every single woman and child that I have previously mentioned, prompted me to write a novel called D'Amour Road.

D'Amour Road is NOT the story of Louise Ellis. It is entirely fictional although I did think of Louise frequently when I was writing it. But my character, Lisa Campana, is nothing like Louise Ellis.

Lisa is a sober alcoholic, who has just experienced a major slip. Lisa and her best friend Tara are about to turn 40. The thought fills Tara with dread. She is unhappy with her job as a rehabilitation nurse and disenchanted with her marriage, but lacks the courage to make a major life change.

When Lisa disappears, Tara's life is thrown into turmoil. She's not sure if Lisa has jeopardized her sobriety again by going on a drinking binge, or if she has been harmed by her partner, who has a history of battering. Tara joins a massive search for her friend in conjunction with the police, her colourful women's collective, and a 24-year-old man, whom she finds particularly captivating.

D'Amour Road explores themes as diverse as women's friendships, male violence, wrongful convictions, addictions, cultural biases against aging, unrequited love and infidelity. I have tried to make Tara quirky and funny to relieve some of the darkness of the story. The book is in its final stages of editing and should be available from Lulu Inc. sometime within the next 4 -- 8 weeks. I hope that you will enjoy my tale and find it provocative.

Although the book takes place in April of 2004, I do allude to the disappearance of Tamra, which did not actually occur until a few months later. But the racist bias against Natives is so disturbing that I felt compelled to include Tamra in my novel. When I did a quick search on Yahoo for Elizabeth Smart, 2,340,000 entries popped up, whereas when I searched for Tamra only 1,700 results emerged. What a sad commentary.

Please check out my links and sign my guestbook. I'd love to hear from you. Don't hesitate to suggest web sites with good fiction. So far, I've only linked to social issue sites, but I do plan to expand my "Herizons."

Thanks. Sigrid

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