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Families' pleas fell on deaf ears, Pickton inquiry hears

Elsie Sebastian was last seen in July, 1992

The daughter of a woman who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 1992 made an emotional appeal at the Pickton inquiry Tuesday for authorities to find out what happened to her mother.

Elsie Sebastian was last seen in July, 1992, when her daughter, Donalee Sebastian, was 16 years old. Elsie was 40.

Testifying at the inquiry in Vancouver, Donalee Sebastian said police refused to accept missing-person reports for years after her mother went missing. "It's quite disturbing," she said, adding that attempts were made by her sister, two grandmothers and two uncles, as well as herself.

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She had been referred to a native liaison officer who said police would not bother looking for a 40-year-old drug-addicted aboriginal prostitute. "That was a shock for me," she said.

Family members were told younger non-aboriginal women were of higher priority, Ms. Sebastian said. The native liaison officer suggested the family speak to community agencies in the Downtown Eastside to see if they could help find her mother, she said.

Once the police began an investigation, they made mistakes, Ms. Sebastian said. They took blood and DNA from family members but lost the samples before doing any testing. They returned four years later to take more, Ms. Sebastian said. "They lost time … when she could have been found."

Also, they closed the file at one point after finding a woman with the same name, she said.

Almost two decades have passed, but the family still cannot mourn her mother's death, Ms. Sebastian said. Police told the family not to have a memorial service. "They said it would jeopardize the investigation."

Ms. Sebastian said she hoped the inquiry could find out what happened to her mother. "We need closure. We would like to have her found. We want to know what happened."

The B.C. government appointed former attorney-general Wally Oppal to investigate why serial killer Robert Pickton was not arrested before February, 2002. Dozens of women went missing from the Downtown Eastside in the years before his arrest. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women. He has said he killed 49 women.

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Elsie Sebastian's background was similar to those of women killed by Mr. Pickton, the inquiry was told. However, none of the evidence found on the Pickton farm was linked to her.

Ms. Sebastian recalled her last meeting with her mother. It was a family reunion in Vancouver in July, 1992. Ms. Sebastian, who was then 16 years old, had been living with her grandmother in Hazelton in northern B.C. for the previous four years.

Her mother was frail, restless and wanted to leave for a narcotic fix, Ms. Sebastian said. She recalled her younger brother was crying, "Don't go away," but her mother left anyway. "That was the last time I saw my mother," Ms. Sebastian said. No one in the family has heard from her since.

The first attempt to report her missing was in October, 1992. Two years later, Ms. Sebastian went to conduct her own search for her mother in the Downtown Eastside. She was appalled by the gritty conditions on the street.

Ms. Sebastian said both her mother and father, who were from native bands in northern B.C., had gone through residential schools and lacked parenting skills. They struggled with alcohol.

Her mother became addicted to drugs after her marriage broke up and she became involved with another man, Ms. Sebastian said. Her mother tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to go to treatment.

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Although her mother lived in Vancouver away from her three children, she regularly kept in touch with her family. Then the phone calls suddenly stopped, the inquiry was told. "I was scared," Ms. Sebastian said.

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