Tag Archives: Taken

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.



Taken: Highway of Tears — Ramona Wilson and Alberta Williams

Episode 2 of Taken features The Highway of Tears; a stretch of Highway 16 located in northern British Columbia. Countless Indigenous women and girls have either gone missing or been murdered, but all have one link: this stretch of highway from Prince Rupert to Prince George. The topography in this area is especially suited for concealment; it is a neverending network of logging roads, ravines and rivers. However, as host Lisa Meeches points out, “these crimes of opportunity are about more than location. They reveal dark underlying truths about society.”

Tonight, Taken focuses on two separate cases from the Highway of Tears: Ramona Wilson and Alberta Williams. Both led happy lives surrounded by family and friends. Their murders devastated their families and in each case, remain unsolved.

Alberta Williams, 24, had been at a local pub on August 15, 1989, with family and friends, celebrating a last night with visiting friends. It was the last time she was seen alive; her body was found a little over month later near the Tyee overpass. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted. In addition to the officers working the case, Alberta’s sister enlisted the aid of private investigator, former RCMP officer Ray Michalko to try and find her sister’s killer

Ramona Wilson, meanwhile, was a well-loved child, active in sports and would often lose herself while composing poetry. On the  evening of June 11, 1994, at the age of 16, Ramona left home to go to a dance with her friends in a neighbouring town. She never arrived. It was not until April 10, 1995—almost a year later—that Ramona’s remains were found with her clothing neatly placed nearby. RCMP staff sergeant  Wayne Clary still believes Ramona’s case is very solvable. Many suspects have been eliminated but to date it remains unsolved.

These two cases highlight a social issue many communities face today: a lack of affordable transportation. How do you get from an isolated community to a neighbouring urban centre? Chief Terry Teegee of Carrier Segani Tribal Council—and cousin of Ramona—reminds us this complicates lives for many. Appointments may be missed, steady employment is difficult, it is hard to attend school, or to even get an adequate education. Due to the remoteness of northern communities, there are fewer opportunities for economic development. This results in a lack of affordable transportation, so many community members resort to hitchhiking despite the danger.

Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International Canada explains further: “The very fact that we are looking at rates of violence seven or eight times higher than all other women and girls in Canada means that this violence does not come from a single source but is pervasive … the very fact that this violence could go on year after year tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong here.”

Once again, I need to repeat, this program is not designed to entertain us, but rather is about sharing information. I do like the way each case has been chosen to highlight larger systemic problems. Many Indigenous communities face these issues that are a direct result of colonizing policy and practices still prevalent in Canada today. I am also very pleased APTN airs each episode twice in each time zone. If you missed it last week, you have the opportunity to see it again the following week.

Viewers are asked to visit the Taken website if they have any information.

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


APTN’s Taken shines a light on missing and murdered Indigenous women

In the series premiere of Taken, hosted by Lisa Meeches, we revisit the case that shocked Canada, raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in mainstream media: Tina Fontaine.

Tina was a 15-year-old with a sweet little baby face, remembered by her teachers to be compassionate and loving. She was also brutally murdered, her body dumped in The Red River with the intention it never be found. However, because of its brutality, it was Tina Fontaine’s case that galvanised the nation. Sergeant John O’Donovan, Winnipeg Police Service, makes a sad observation that puts this into perspective: “I think society would be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition. This is a child. Society should be horrified.”

Thelma Favel, Tina’s great aunt who raised Tina until she left Sagkeeng to reconnect with her estranged mother in Winnipeg, shares many stories that bring the face we know from the news to life. The storytelling is aided by re-enactments in the locations where Tina was known to frequent.

This initial episode of Taken also highlights the systemic abuse and racism present in Canada today. Policies put in place throughout the country’s history have promoted these vulnerable circumstances for Indigenous women. Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International explains, “this violence is a symptom of a much larger problem than was displayed in the Residential Schools. It is a pattern of discrimination that has played out in policy in a thousand minute every day ways as well.”

This is a serious program, not meant for entertainment but to inform. Care has definitely been taken to ensure Tina’s story is treated with the respect it deserves. However, due to the sheer number of cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and children, Taken may trigger difficult emotions for some viewers.

I have two main concerns with this show, co-commissioned between APTN and CBC. First, CBC has yet to slot the series into their schedule. This is an investigative  documentary series showcasing ongoing investigations. Each episode opens and closes with a request for information. Would it not be judicious to broadcast this to the widest audience possible in the timeliest of manners? Over time, information and leads dry up, memories can fade, evidence can be compromised, all of which can weaken the Crown’s Disclosure in the court of law. And yet CBC is not airing in conjunction with APTN’s broadcast.

My second concern relates to how Tina was initially presented in this episode. Tina was a little girl, she was not just one more murdered Indigenous child. She was a child with family and friends and hobbies. Often, we forget who the person was and they are seen only as a victim. We did learn about Tina the child, but that came later in the program. I would have preferred to get to know the child so I could grieve the loss of her.

If you do have any information about the Tina Fontaine case you are urged to contact either the authorities or Taken.

Taken airs Fridays at 7 p.m. ET on APTN.