Jacqueline Guillion is a collective member at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter.
This article was originally written for and published in Sister Outsiders, issue #4: What you won’t hear inside the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.
Mainstream media like CBC, The Tyee, Vancouver Sun, and Seattle’s weekly, The Stranger, easily uncovered the fact that former Port Coquitlam Mayor, Scott Young, and hundreds of other people had attended events at Piggy’s Palace, the party venue operating for several years at Pickton’s pig farm. I asked some of those Vancouver rock/punk bands playing in the 1990s what they’d heard about Piggy’s Palace. I was relieved to hear my friends say they had refused to play there because, as one said “even though we’d played some shitty places, we’d heard Piggy’s was totally sketchy bikers, blow, you name it.”
Others describe Piggy’s Palace as “rough,” “very very badass.” One man interviewed in 2003 by The Stranger said: “There were lots of women, who looked like hookers…. The party spilled all over the grounds and there were people in the house and in the trailer doing the wild thing. I recall walking by a shack with a 40-watt light bulb hanging over the door and machinery was running inside. Here, I got a death chill. The hairs raised on the back of my neck and my feet froze to the ground. I didn’t want to be there anymore, so I left and walked home.”
This is what is most chilling to me: literally hundreds of people, from East Van rockers to off duty cops to the Mayor of Port Coquitlam, knew that Piggy’s Palace and its proprietors were trouble – specifically trouble for prostituted women. Yet the venue remained in operation for years without intervention by neighbours, police, or concerned members of the public.
Former Mayor Scott Young’s disregard for women is already public, evident in his guilty plea for an assault on his ex common-law partner and for breaching a no-contact order intended to protect her. But what about the bands who decided that, despite the “rough crowd” and the rule to “check your knives and other weapons at the door,” playing repeated gigs at Piggy’s Palace was worth it because the money was good? A few Lower Mainland bands’ websites still list their Piggy’s Palace gigs in their band bio. One even has the gall to highlight the notoriety of the Pickton case.
The media was able to find people willing to paint the grisly picture of what they witnessed before vowing never to visit Piggy’s Palace again. But where were those who saw what was happening and then vowed to help put the heat on local authorities to shut Pickton down? As a frontline rape crisis worker, I rejoice when I receive a call from someone wanting to help a woman who’s in danger. I am ready to rally my team and encourage the neighbour or friend to respond, to help the woman escape, and to fight back.
So yet another facet of the story is missing from the Missing Women’s Inquiry – the everyday men who partied and played at Piggy’s Palace and how their refusal to come forward early makes them complicit in this gruesome tragedy.
While the Missing Women’s Inquiry draws some public attention to the role of police procedures (and their failures) in the investigation, as a community we should be obliged by our humanity to really consider how Pickton was able to murder so many women over such a long time, and how the case ought to press us all toward progressive change.
Instead, the Pickton case has been used to promote the full decriminalization of prostitution. Prostituted women should never have been criminalized or put in the position of selling sex for money – but to call for the decriminalization of johns and pimps based on the Pickton case is completely illogical. Full decriminalization will not protect the women that johns like Pickton might pick up on the streets as is often argued. Pickton was a wealthy man and could very easily have ‘hired’ women openly operating as ‘adult entertainers’ or ‘escorts’ from the back pages of the Georgia Straight. Indeed, as Piggy’s Palace venue was operating as a registered non-profit agency, buying women’s bodies purchased through licensed escort agencies could have been written off as costs of doing business. But Pickton and those who co-hosted the parties purposely sought out the “unlicensed” and desperate women on the streets of the Downtown Eastside who would risk the sketchy trip to the PoCo pig farm. How will these women benefit from the decriminalization of johns and pimps? Surely we want no woman pressed into this?