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Rites unified families awaiting Pickton verdict

Families appreciated kindness of strangers

Globe and Mail Update

Amid the muck and mire of the Pickton trial, there were moments of grace in its final days.

The long wait for the jury to report on Robert Pickton's fate had been excruciating for the families of the victims, the strain becoming more and more unbearable with each passing hour.

During the daily lunch break, many repaired to the Heritage Grill, not far from the courthouse in New Westminster. Staff at the restaurant could not have been more solicitous to their distraught customers.

Last Thursday, family members showed their appreciation for the kindness of strangers by giving them an angel to adorn the top of the eatery's Christmas tree. The next day, restaurant employees presented each family member with a bouquet of flowers. Asked why, owner Paul Minhas replied, "Give me one good reason why not."

Meanwhile, it was evident to anyone sitting around the courthouse during the 10-day wait that the mounting tension was having an impact on relationships within the group.

As nerves frayed, those camping out in the chilly corridors seemed to split into two factions, native and non-native.

By Sunday morning, someone decided enough was enough.

Family members from both sides were invited to take part in a native smudge ceremony. They agreed.

In the bitter cold, a dozen of them stood in a solemn circle to receive wisps of smoke wafted their way from glowing embers of sweetgrass, sage and cedar chips. Members of the media were kept well back.

After many moving moments of silence, as each individual was anointed in turn, the group suddenly erupted into loud, prolonged laughter. It was if the dam holding back the tension of the past year had suddenly given way.

The families were one.

Gladys Radek, aunt of one of the many native women who have disappeared along the so-called "highway of tears" up north, organized the smudge ceremony.

"I've been here a couple of weeks," she told reporters afterward. "There has been segregation among the families, and I wanted to prevent that. Everyone here is in the same boat. They all lost their loved ones. This is a healing for them."

Another goal of the smudge ceremony, Ms. Radek said, was to give family members the chance "to pray for a good verdict."

Five minutes later, Sheriff Tom Collins came around the corner of the courthouse to announce that, after more than 75 hours of deliberation, the jury had finally made a decision.

Strange verbalizing

Was it possible to smile at all during the many days lawyers for both sides spent summing up the horror show of what went on at the Pickton pig farm?

Not really, but prosecutor Mike Petrie did offer a small window of modest mirth as he recounted some examples of strange verbalizing by witnesses during their testimony.

They used such terms as skeduffle; speriodic; indue care of attention; preperating the site; simular; almostly all the time; inrelevant; and the piggery had been delapracating before it was smolished.

Wordsmiths, take note. A whole new verbal world is upon us.

Heartbreaking sentiments

It was a shattering experience to sit in the Pickton courtroom for the heartbreaking sentiments of those left behind to mourn Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey.

For nearly six years, family members had waited for their day in court, to tell their story, to remind us all that the victims were more than junkies and prostitutes. When that time arrived on Tuesday, the statements they gave were extraordinary.

These are the concluding words of Elaine Belanger, who lost her first-born child to Mr. Pickton's evil.

"The dreams I have of my daughter are so real. She is alive. And then I wake up and the emptiness in my stomach realizes that Brenda is gone. But not forgotten.

"If the teardrops I shed made a pathway to heaven, I would walk all the way and bring you home. I would hold you in my arms again, Brenda, and never let you go."

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