I’m not a fan of covering crime for its own sake. I understand people are interested in the details, but there’s a lot of crime and it would be easy to fill our days with gory details of shootings and murders from around the world. Not much public value in that.
At the same time, there is a real public value in understanding what leads to crimes and seeing what lessons can be learned to prevent future ones. Which brings me to the trial of Cody Legebokoff.
“Make no mistake, it was luck.”
Such was the assessment of Justice Glen Parrett, the judge who sentenced Cody Legebokoff to life in prison for the murder of four women in northern B.C. He was speaking about the night that RCMP officer Aaron Kehler stopped Legebokoff after he saw him speeding off a logging road.
The justice praised Kehler for employing good instincts, and the work of RCMP that uncovered the four killings and ultimately led to the conviction. But at the same time he made it clear that had Kehler not happened to be on that road that night, Legebokoff could still be out there, and could have killed again.
So what lessons to be learned from this that help prevent future crimes?
Justice Parrett raised a few issues in his sentencing. One was the fact the RCMP unit tasked with investigating missing and murdered women along Highway 16, aka the Highway of Tears, has had its budget cut by 84% over the last two years.
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The night the jury found Legebokoff guilty, I was on the steps of the court house. About two dozen people were outside, drumming and holding a poster of other women who have been lost in B.C.’s north. I spoke with Brenda Wilson, who lost her sister in Smithers about twenty years ago.
“I hope that some day I’ll be able to go through the same process,” she told me. “My sister was murdered twenty years ago… and we have no closure.”
After the guilty verdict, families spoke. Judy Maas’ sister Cynthia was among the four who were killed. She used the moment to address the issues vulnerable people in our society face.
“They were more than just a sex trade worker or a drug addict or a mental health issues,” she said of the women, including her sister. “They were truly human beings who lost their way. And without the services and programs, there’s going to be more of this type of thing.”
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There’s been more than enough of this type of thing already. RCMP have confirmed hundreds of cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women across the country over the past decades. The numbers stand out enough that leaders and thinkers have made the case for a national inquiry.
This past Sunday, an “Am I Next?” rally was held on the steps of the Prince George court house to raise awareness for the issue. “Am I Next?” is an online campaign, in which Aboriginal women take a picture of themselves along with the words “Am I Next?” It was started by Holly Jarrett of Hamilton, whose cousin Loretta Saunders was found dead earlier this year.
Jessi King is the UNBC PhD student who organized the Prince George rally.
“Why are Aboriginal women so devalued in the society that we look at them as not just victims, but ‘oh, they were living a risky lifestyle.’… how do we live in a society where you explain it away like that?”
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Justice Parrett addressed calls for a national inquiry in his sentencing. “It is a mistake to limit the seriousness of this issue,” he said. He pointed out that of the four women Legebokoff was found guilty of killing, two were Aboriginal and two were caucasian. He also pointed out that the women in these cases were in a high-risk lifestyle.
Outside, my colleague Wil Fundal spoke to a woman who said she knew Cynthia Maas from her life on the street. She took hope from the sentencing and the justice’s comments.
“It’s the beginning of people realizing that women do need help down here and everywhere else,” she said.
The trial is over. Four murders have been solved.
We’ll see what happens next.