Taken: Downtown East Side — Danielle LaRue and Ashley Machiskinic

Episode 3 of Taken focused on Vancouver’s downtown east side, a district notoriously recognized as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” It is an area plagued with homelessness, addiction, drug trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The two cases chosen on Friday highlight the larger social problems faced in that neighbourhood. Angela McDougall, executive director of Battered Women Support Service explains, “that the neighbourhood over time became a place that was considered the scourge of the city. And as the scourge of the city it also became a place where women were deemed to not deserve the protection of the police, the state, or of men. It [the district] became in some cases a sacrifice zone where women were there and where men who wanted to do violence could do so with impunity.”

We are introduced to the stories of Ashley Machiskinic and Danielle LaRue. Danielle LaRue was a high-spirited, adventuresome child who loved being the clown. This was a mask she wore to hide her pain. She was abused by her mother at a young age and spent a good deal of time in and out of foster care. She ran away to Prince George, B.C., but sexual exploitation and drug abuse consumed her. Danielle hoped to escape that in Vancouver, but she had sunk so far no one was aware she was missing until an anonymous letter was received by the Vancouver police on New Year’s Eve, 2002. It was another five months before police issued an alert Danielle was missing. The case remains unsolved.

Ashley Machiskinic is remembered fondly by her cousin Mona Woodward—a social worker who at one time also came very close to being one of the many victims of Vancouver’s downtown—as a very happy, bubbly, generous girl. She had a very difficult upbringing, living in foster homes until the age of 12 when her mother brought her to Vancouver to escape.

Vancouver police veteran Dave Dickson met the young Ashley and described her as, “just a little sweetheart. She was just 14 years old when I met her. She was just another typical kid that was in the care of the ministry.” Sadly, life on the streets also turned to addiction and sexual exploitation for Ashley, with several bouts in hospital. On September 15, 2010, her body was found in the alley behind the Regent Hotel; she was thought to have fallen, but many believe she was thrown from a 4th storey window. Her death was ruled a suicide. Those who knew her beg to differ.

As a result of this public outcry, Sister Watch was formed, a multi-faceted initiative designed to combat violence against women and make life on the streets of downtown Vancouver safer for all who live there.

This was another powerful episode of Taken. Despite the difficult subject matter, I recognize how important it is this series be seen by as many people as possible. Like these two cases, so many continue to be unsolved. If anyone does have information about this or any other case you are asked to contact Taken.

Taken airs Fridays at 7 and 7:30 p.m. ET on APTN.