A Social Justice 12 class at Alberni District Secondary School got a real life lesson about Canada’s most prolific serial killer from the brother of one of his victims.
Ernie Crey addressed a hushed class of 30 students on Monday, telling them about his sister Dawn, a victim of Robert William Pickton.
Pickton is the Port Coquitlam pig farmer who is serving a life sentence for six counts of second-degree murder. He has been accused of murdering 26 more women, including Dawn Crey, whose DNA, but not her body, was found on the Pickton farm.
Bringing personal experience with a national tragedy to a class in Port Alberni is invaluable, teacher Ann Ostwald said. “I think it is very important to expose my kids to people with different ideas and life experiences,” Ostwald said. “Ernie is someone who took a long and painful process in life and was matter-of-fact.”
Dawn Crey disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 2000, Crey told the class. “She’d stopped ordering medications from her doctor and stopped collecting her social assistance cheques,” he said. “She’d also stopped having regular visits with another of my sisters and that’s when it started.”
Four years later, and RCMP officer visited Crey to deliver the news he anticipated but hoped would never come—that Dawn’s DNA had been found on the Pickton farm.
Dawn Crey’s life may have ended on the pig farm but the seeds to such a tragic ending were sown long before, Ernie said.
Dawn, and for that matter other Pickton victims, were “very much like you and came from communities very much like Port Alberni,” he said.
What separated many of the victims from other people was severe mental illness, which in his sister’s case included auditory and visual hallucinations, Crey said.
As a teen, Dawn suffered from severe anxiety and depression issues that she didn’t understand. “It was far different from being upset at your mom or dad. It was a more profound psychosis,” he said. “You may know someone struggling with this today.”
Dawn resorted to self-medicating with street drugs and alcohol in an effort to control her condition, he said. The self-medicating led to an addiction.
Later, she met a man who was charismatic and had movie star looks. “But he was addicted as well, and they lived on the streets.”
Time slipped away and Dawn was no longer a pretty 16-year-old girl. Older, and being edged out by younger street workers, Dawn moved to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“Her mental illness deepened and she was abused and exploited to no end,” Crey said.
Dawn was finally committed to Colony Farms Hospital, a psychiatric facility where she was treated for her condition. She was released though, and found her self back on the Downtown Eastside.
Ernie spent weeks trying to have her committed again but it was only after she committed a crime that she was sent back to Colony Farm.
“She’d say she saw snakes and heard voices telling her to do things. That’s what she was self-medicating to try and control,” he said.
Crey said that the thing that irks him most is people who ask him where the victims’ personal responsibilities are for where they ended up in life.
“It’s not as though they chose to go, chose to be abused and exploited,” he said. “Thirty years ago I probably would have punched them in the face for even making the suggestion.”
One student asked why it took so long for police to catch Pickton. After reflecting for several moments Crey replied that “their hearts weren’t into the investigation.” Vancouver City Police later apologized for not catching Pickton sooner, he said.
Another student asked if it was because the victims were from the Downtown Eastside. “If the ladies were from West Vancouver or Kerrisdale then it’s safe to say that he would have been caught much sooner.”
Crey asked that if students take one thing away from his talk with them it should be that the issue of mental illness as well as drug and alcohol addiction underpinned the tragedy of the Pickton murder victims.
“You may become doctors, lawyers, nurses or social workers,” he said. “Remember to take this (story) further into your professional lives.”