Rounding Up the Predators
In honor of Women’s History Month and the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8th, ICTMN debuts Navajo writer Valerie Taliman’s new series on the growing human rights crisis in Canada where more than 600 Native women are missing or have been murdered. More than half of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples are women, and for most, the world is a difficult place. Indigenous women bear the brunt of violence, war, poverty, homelessness, poor health, disease and a lack of access to education and employment opportunities. In the United States and Canada, statistics indicate one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime. Aboriginal women in Canada are five times more likely to die from violence than their peers of other races. In her new series, Taliman examines government policies that remove women and children from their homelands, force them into assimilation, and ultimately strip them of their rights to land, culture, and basic human rights. Links to her first series are here:
VANCOUVER – One day after memorializing the lost lives of 600 Native women, victims of a notorious sex predator spoke for the first time in front of the British Columbia Provincial Court. Under a light rain, they stood among families and elders, demonstrating at a bail hearing against a man they call a monster.
Tearful and angry, five young First Nations women held signs and photos of Martin Tremblay, 45, who was charged in 2003 with 18 counts of sexual assault of drugging, raping and filming five unconscious Native girls, ages 13 to 15. Tremblay served little more than a year in jail, and soon returned to the Downtown Eastside to prey on more victims, including two teenagers who died last October after partying in his Richmond, B.C. home.
The young women on the steps of the courthouse were five of Tremblay’s new and unknown victims, scared but determined to share their harrowing stories and demand that he not be released from jail. They came forward at the urging of Sister Watch, a joint effort by the Vancouver Police and a coalition of women’s groups that is asking victims to report new information about assaults linked to Tremblay and other violent drug dealers.
Among those supporting the young victims were Kwakwaka'wakw Chief Kelvin Bee and his family, who traveled from interior British Columbia seeking justice for his niece, Kayla Lalonde, 16, the young woman who died in Tremblay’s home last fall from a drug overdose. Bee brought his family of young singers, their hand drums, and traditional songs to the courthouse where they sang for several hours, standing in support of the women.
One young man stood out with his silent vigilance, quietly holding a photo of Tremblay. “He killed my girlfriend,” said Stephen Cain, 20, speaking of 17-year-old Martha Jackson Hernandez. “She was partying with her friend, Kayla, at Tremblay’s house and then they both turned up dead. He should be in jail on murder charges.”
Richmond, B.C. Police have not charged Tremblay in the overdose deaths of Lalonde and Hernandez, citing a lack of evidence, but families insist the investigation was bungled and not given high priority. They accuse police of dismissing their repeated complaints against Tremblay and his associates.
“I worked for him running drugs, and I know his pattern,” said Krystal, who declined to give her real name. “He lures young girls by saying he’s your street dad – he even says to call him that. He buys you things, and has parties with free booze and drugs for underage kids. Then he puts that date-rape drug in your drinks and next thing you know, you wake up in his bed with him touching you, and you’re defenseless. He did that to me. I told the cops but they didn’t do anything.”
In the days leading up to the 20th annual Women’s Memorial March, the police conducted several raids on known drug dealers, arresting 11 men, including Tremblay. In one cache, police found an estimated $50,000 in cash, AK-47s, knives, pistols, a crossbow and brass knuckles, dozens of bags of crack, crystal meth, and a large bottle of GHB, the “date rape” drug.
At a press conference following the arrests, Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu said, “We are asking all victims to come forward either to police or a trusted community person. You’re safe while he’s in jail and off the streets, and we need other potential victims to report crimes.” Chu is credited as the first police chief to work with the aboriginal community on the issue, creating two major initiatives, Projects Tyrant and Rescue under the umbrella of Sister Watch in cooperation with women’s groups.
“You know, it’s a terrible thing to live in fear,” said Vancouver Deputy Chief of Investigations Warren Lemcke. “Imagine how frightening it is to know that there are people out there who intend to hurt you in a terrible way or possibly do something even worse. The women of the Downtown Eastside have told us that what they fear most are the predatory drug dealers who conduct their business with violence, torture and terror. We have heard what the women and the community have told us and we have targeted the worst of the worst of these offenders.”
In an unprecedented step, police invited Native women from Sister Watch to join the press conference as part of a public appeal to women of the DTES. “There’s a war going on out there, and our people are the targets,” said Mona Woodward, an organizer with the Aboriginal Front Door Society, whose daughter was one of Tremblay’s victims. “If there’s anyone who has information about him, please come forward. He’s in jail now and can’t hurt you. We need to keep this man in jail.”
On the day of Tremblay’s hearing, Native families packed the courtroom and lined the hallways awaiting his appearance at a bail hearing on charges of drug trafficking. As he was led into the courtroom wearing a red prisoner’s jumpsuit, he did not look at the victims and families who awaited him. Women at the back of the room called out “murderer … rapist” as he sat silently staring straight ahead, his face devoid of emotion, surrounded by three officers.
One young woman, Alana Gauley, 22, began sobbing when she saw him, and had to be escorted out by family. “Martin Tremblay raped me when I was only 14,” she later said. “He gave me orange juice with the date-rape drug in it, and that’s all I remember. I woke up naked on his bed. He did the same thing to my sister and 10 other girls.”
Several of Tremblay’s teen victims were in court to submit testimony as part of a community assessment submitted by residents, but the prosecutor declined to use the information they provided. No explanation was given about why the community assessment report was not taken into consideration, prompting audible complaints from residents who want Tremblay kept off the streets.
“I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder if he gets released. They need to lock him up and throw away the key,” said an elder in the front row who declined to give her name.
Tremblay listened passively as B.C. provincial court Judge Gregory Rideout sentenced him to one year in prison, less 23 days served, for two counts of trafficking cocaine and one count of possession of cocaine. Noting the predatory nature of drug-dealing criminals like Tremblay who ran a "dial-a-dope" scheme from his cell phone, Judge Rideout said, “Violence and drug-dealing seem to go hand-in-hand. That struggle is not helped by people like Mr. Tremblay coming into the Downtown Eastside to traffic and perpetuate violence.”
People were noticeably upset by the light sentence, voicing disapproval as the hearing concluded and Tremblay was led away. After the hearing, a group of about 30 young people met at the Aboriginal Front Door Society, located next to the Vancouver Police Department, to discuss strategies for keeping their peers safe.
“At least he’s off the streets for now while the police collect more evidence against him,” said Chief Bee. “We’re going to continue coming here and making a stand for the lives of our women. He had no right to take them from us, and we can’t give up our hopes that justice will eventually be served.”