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Pickton inquiry: "Erin Brockovich of Downtown Eastside" refuses to stay silent on missing women

Bonnie Fournier is making a last-ditch appeal to testify at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. Photo by David P. Ball

When Bonnie Fournier saw a black shape being dragged out the passenger side of a large vehicle on Cordova Street late one night in 2000, she thought someone was dumping a garbage bag on the unlit sex worker stroll she patrolled in her mobile nursing van.

Then, she recalled to the Vancouver Observer, the shape wriggled and she saw a flash of skin.

“It's a person!” she screamed, and the driver of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society (DEYAS) health outreach van floored the gas and leaned on the horn. “We only had a matter of seconds to get the girl – she was dropped to the ground and they took off.

“She had hair and tissue torn from her head, contusions on her knees, and road burn. I didn't know how far she was dragged, but she was screaming and hysterical. I knew her from the Downtown Eastside.”

Fournier, a now-retired nurse who worked in the Downtown Eastside since 1968, says that what she saw – and what happened next – needs to be heard by the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, which is probing into why police did not catch serial Robert "Willy" Pickton sooner. But so far, requests to let her testify have fallen on deaf ears, and only nine hearing days remain.

“Who was it?” Fournier asked the sex worker, when she had calmed down and her wounds dressed.

“'They wanted a date and I didn't want to go – so they grabbed me by my hair,'” the young woman replied.

Fournier was almost certain the vehicle was one she'd seen Robert Pickton with regularly in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), years before his multiple murder conviction. Word-of-mouth among sex workers -- and on "bad date sheets" DEYAS published -- was that the "stinky" Port Coquitlam pig farmer was killing women, but police ignored the rumours and reports. If the truck Fournier saw was his, it meant Pickton had an accomplice. She asked the woman if it was him.

“'I can't say, because I'd be dead,'” she told Fournier. “'They'll kill me.'”

No chance to speak at missing women's inquiry

On April 2, 2011, Fournier said she attended a meeting with commission lawyers in preparation for the long-anticipated – and hard-fought – inquiry. The lawyers were interested in her because she had been DEYAS' only full-time nurse from 1999 to 2003, and before that the only full-time nurse at the Vancouver Provincial Courthouse's holding cells from 1978 to 2003. She practiced narcotic addiction and criminal nursing in the DTES since graduating in 1968. DEYAS' van was shut down after its funding was cut by the regional health authority in 2009.

On Dec. 23, 2011, her name was among 20 key witnesses submitted by Cameron Ward, a lawyer representing more than 20 families of women whose remains were found on Pickton's farm.

“No other nurse, arguably, has worked the streets of the DTES as much or for as long as Ms. Fournier,” the submission stated.

But no call has come. With only nine hearing days remaining – after the province refused requests to extend the inquiry's June deadline – this is Fournier's last chance to share her experience.

“I don't know what their resistance is to me,” she told the Vancouver Observer. “The police don't want me to testify.

“I'm like the Erin Brockovitch of the Downtown Eastside,” she said, referring to a famous California whistleblower who fought the powerful energy industry in 1993.

Robert Pickton, the "smelly pig farmer" in the DTES

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