Healing garden sought for Pickton victims

A Port Coquitlam mother of four is pressing the city to build a healing garden at the Blakeburn Lagoons.

Jami Watson Roberts loves Port Coquitlam. Her four children go to northside schools. She can walk to work at Costco. She has many good friends and neighbours. She is invested in her community.

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But not all is well.

For years, Roberts has sought closure on a subject close to her heart.

A victim of domestic abuse, Roberts wants permission from the city to build a healing garden for the women murdered on Robert Pickton's property.

"It's long overdue," she said, shaking her head in frustration. "I don't think we would be talking about this today if [the victims] were a group of soccer moms because it would have already been done by now. It's a reflection of how this community views these women."

Roberts started the ball rolling with city hall a few years ago. She formed a committee and, in January 2014, hosted an open house at Blakeburn elementary school — directly north of the Pickton farm, located on property that used to be owned by the Picktons — to gauge the public's interest in a garden on a strip of city land east of Blakeburn Park.

About 35 people showed up, she said, including Maggie De Vries, who lost her sister Sarah on the Pickton farm. Roberts said there was mixed reaction from the crowd: Many were encouraging but others were concerned about having a memorial for such a tragedy so close to an elementary school.

Roberts said she went back to city hall to meet with parks and recreation staff and heard their concerns. "I listened and followed the rules," she said, yet she claims administration was telling her privately that city council was not interested.

Roberts continued to pursue the idea and reached out to Tri-CIty MLAs after the city asked her to see if something could be done on the Pickton land itself. The MLAs were supportive but her efforts hit a brick wall on legal and finances.

"The property is basically tied up in mortgages and liens," Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Linda Reimer told The Tri-City News.

Last summer, when then-MP James Moore announced funding to update the Blakeburn Lagoons, Roberts turned her attention to the middle dike. She envisions a bee/bird/butterfly area there, "a beautiful sanctuary for people to enter and put closure to all of this. There's somebody's sister or daughter that's gone."

If possible, Roberts also wants to incorporate the Living Stones from Hastings Street, a memorial project in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in honour of the women taken by the PoCo serial killer (Reimer said she has made inquiries about obtaining those plaques).

The healing garden concept is being backed by Tri-City Transitions, which supports women and families affected by violence, as well as De Vries, an award-winning author and speaker.

"I think it's important because these events happened in Port Coquitlam and it's important to acknowledge and create some permanent space that marks that," De Vries told The Tri-City News. "The city is wounded by this. My sister died in your city 18 years ago and there's been nothing. It hurts to see that.

"If Port Coquitlam never does anything, what does that say? Fifty women were brought to the farm and never came off."

But Mayor Greg Moore said the city hasn't turned a blind eye and, contrary to Roberts' claim, is interested in receiving a formal request (Kristen Meersman, the city's director of engineering and operations, is expected to meet with Roberts on Friday).

Moore said part of the process would be to hear from the victims' families to see if a healing garden would be appropriate.

About a decade ago, when Pickton was before the courts, city council — of which Moore was a member — considered a number of options. "We did sense that something should be done but there was no feedback from the families," he said.

Over the years, a church planned to buy the Dominion Avenue land and have a healing garden but that didn't pan out; memorial benches were also proposed, as was a special site at the city cemetery.

"There are a lot of suggestions that have gone around… but council hasn't heard anything from the families," Moore said. "Perhaps they want something closer to their hometowns instead.

"We're not trying to be preventative but I think this needs to come from the community and families. We don't want to do the wrong thing."

Coun. Brad West, chair of the city's smart growth committee, concurred. "I think figuring out what to do is long overdue," he said, "but the families are critical. They're the ones most impacted by this."

As for Roberts, she said she hopes the public will lobby city hall. She has created a Facebook page ("Blakeburn Healing Garden Committee") to advocate for the healing garden.

"I don't want these women to be forgotten," she said.





A book of poems about Port Coquitlam and the Pickton murders was launched last week.

Maple Ridge resident Brooke Carter published her poetry chapbook, titled POCO LOCO, through Anstruther Press. The book speaks of Carter's childhood in Port Coquitlam as well as the serial murderer.

Carter wrote in a press release: "The place that raised me is also a place where horrible things happened. I wanted to write poems about what it’s like to be a girl in a place and time when it seems all odds are against you making it out alive. I feel very lucky to be here and I feel it is important to keep talking about these things."

A graduate of UBC's master's in fine arts creative writing program, Carter will also see her young adult novel Another Miserable Love Song published this summer.


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