Another layer of defenselessness

We were dicussing imagery associated with the Willy Pickton trial and all of the missing women from the Downtown Eastside today in class, and this image came up:


I noticed right away the contrast between the victims all being women and the rest of the people, especially the lawyers, being men. Of particular interest to me is the fact that Peter Ritchie is defending Robert Pickton, and Michael Petrie is defending the Crown, but no one is defending the women. Michael Petrie, while he is ostensibly on the “side” of the women, is actually defending the state from lawlessness and disorder. Compare Max Weber’s definition of the state:

[T]he state is the form of human community that (successfully) lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate physical violence within a particular territory […]. [A]ll other organizations or individuals can assert the right to use physical violence only insofar as the state permits them to do so. (“Politics as a Vocation,” italics in original)

Pickton threatened the autonomy of the state by using physical violence without permission, which is why he is being prosecuted by the state rather than by a lawyer working for the women. Considering the Crown symbolism, in fact, the women have very little to do with this trial whatsoever.

4 responses to “Another layer of defenselessness

  1. I like your observations here. However, I worry about the phrase “defending the women”. It implies that the women are being accused of something. Do you think they are? By defending the State, instead of the women, I think it is supposed to lend an intentional anonymity to the victims. Whether Pickton’s victims were suburban housewives, successful business women, or drug-addicted prostitutes, the verdict and punishment should be the same. I have seen some great examples of the media being an advocate for the victims; interviews with the victims families, etc. The media has brought attention to issues such as homelessness, drug-addiction, and prostitution, as they affect women. Anyways, thank you for writing this. it has given me a lot to think about.

  2. mackereleconomics

    “Defending women” in my post was simply meant as a synonym for “on the women’s side,” as contrasted with the lawyers on the defendant’s side; Pickton was represented on that poster as having advocates working to protect his livelihood, whereas the women weren’t.

    I have to disagree with you that the anonymity of these women was a good thing. Part of what made this episode such a disaster was the fact that the women were effectively anonymous, which made it easy for lots of them to disappear without raising the alarm of the police, the city, and the public. A lot of the response to the incident that came out of the Downtown Eastside focused on rectifying the women’s anonymity; instead of the portrayal of these women as just drug-addicted prostitutes, which is a representation that preserves their anonymity, DTES activists attempted to re-represent the women as people with families, friends, ambitions, feelings, and so on. A great deal of this response manifested in various artistic reconfigurations of the mug-shot poster that were designed to represent the humanity of the women rather than simply identifying them with drugs and prostitution, as the original poster did. It would seem to me that reproducing this anonymity in the courts would simply play up to the reductionist perception of drug-addicted prostitutes in such a way as to further perpetuate the problems that led to this mess in the first place.

  3. Many of the victims were represented in court by their families, who have also been strong advocates for justice in the media circus around this case. It has fundamentally changed the way the justice system treats people, and this has been a very good thing. No longer is the rape or assault of a sex trade worker dismissed as “coming with the territory.”

    By the way, not all of Willy’s victims were prostitutes; I can say this because, fourteen years before he was arrested and charged for these crimes, he tried to do the same to me.

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