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VANCOUVER—A growing number of Aboriginal teenage girls are speaking out about their survival of drugging and sexual assault by Martin Tremblay. On February 3, 2011, relatives and friends once again rallied in support outside the Vancouver Provincial Court at Main and Hastings Streets in Vancouver.
"I hope our message gets through to the federal government and the provincial government to tell them the people are now finally speaking up instead of sitting back, hoping for the worst," explained Hank Bee, who had come to the rally from the BC interior to represent the family of his niece Kayla Lalonde, who was murdered last year.
Tremblay is in custody and facing drug charges. His bail hearing was postponed again and is now scheduled for February 16. Tremblay was arrested along with several others in a January 2011 sweep by the Vancouver Police Department's (VDP) "Project Rescue."
Both Project Rescue and "Project Tyrant" targeted some of the city's most predatory and violent drug dealers. While the VPD reports that the arrests are the outcome of their outreach with some Downtown East Side organizations, the police and courts face ongoing criticism for their failure to protect Aboriginal girls and women from sexual and physical violence.
"This place is bullshit; [it's a] revolving door. He'll probably get out within the next couple of months, 'cause that's the way it is," said Bee in an interview with the Vancouver Media Co-op outside the Vancouver Provincial Court at 222 Main Street.
In December 2003, Tremblay was convicted for five counts of sexual assault against Aboriginal teenage girls. However, he was released from custody the following year, after serving only a fraction of his three-and-a-half-year sentence.
Several Aboriginal teenage girls have spoken out to police and media over the past year, denouncing Tremblay for drugging and sexually assaulting them since his previous release.
A white francophone man in his mid-40s, Tremblay is known by youth as "Uncle Martin," "Frenchie" and "Dad." According to the girls and women in the DTES who have been speaking out about Tremblay, he has been preying on young Aboriginal teenage girls in East Vancouver for years, luring them to his home with promises of free alcohol and drugs.
Finally, on February 11, 2011, the VPD released to the public a photo of Tremblay. "We believe it’s necessary to put out his picture because he goes by different names. He has used 'Daniel Simard' and changed his name from Martin Tremblay to Joseph Walter Martin Tremblay," said Inspector Dean Robinson in a public statement from the VPD.
“Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures,” said Chief Constable Jim Chu, of the unusual step of releasing a photo of a suspect of a continuing investigation.
Those seeking justice for girls assaulted and killed feel police response to those crimes is still lacking. "How many girls do they need to keep him behind bars? A hundred? You want a hundred dead? You know, like, isn't one assaulted good enough? Isn't one dead good enough?" said Aboriginal Front Door volunteer Bobbi O'Shea after the rally on February 3, 2011.
Statements by young girls reveal detailed accounts of Kayla Lalonde and Martha Hernandez's "visits" to Tremblay's residence.
In 2009, Lalonde survived a sexual assault by Tremblay while she was unconscious and woke up naked at a bus stop downtown. Details of this incident were publicly revealed to the media by another 17-year-old Aboriginal teen, who also shared details of her own survival of a sexual assault by Tremblay.
On March 2, 2010, 17-year-old Martha Hernandez died from a lethal dose of drugs and alcohol inside Tremblay's home in Richmond. That morning, 16-year-old Kayla Lalonde's body was discovered on a street in Burnaby. Forensic evidence determined her cause of death to be a similar lethal dose of drugs and alcohol.
"I don't know why we haven't heard that, you know, he's up on any charges [related to the sexual assaults or deaths] yet," said O'Shea, who also told the Vancouver Media Co-op that she personally knows nine Aboriginal teenage girls who have been sexually assaulted by Tremblay.
"I feel failed by the system," continued O'Shea. "If it was a white person from the West Side, and a Native person who victimized them—one person!—[the Native] would have been locked up, closed, case closed. But because it was on the other foot, it's like, 'Who cares?'"
According to a Justice for Girls press release on the day of his sentencing on December 4, 2003, Tremblay had originally been charged with 18 counts of sexual assault and administering a noxious substance to five Aboriginal girls between the ages of 13 and 15. Then 38, Tremblay admitted to sexually assaulting and videotaping the girls while they were unconscious in his home. He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in custody and 18 months probation.
"We are disappointed with the sentence but not surprised by it because the courts rarely treat violence against Aboriginal teenage girls seriously," said Justice for Girls advocate Annabel Webb in the December 2003 press release.
"What is shocking however is the degree of racism and sexism that is tolerated in the defence of men who commit sexual offences against Aboriginal girls," continued the statement.
Media reports indicate that Tremblay did not in fact serve his entire sentence, and that he was released in 2004. Although Justice for Girls advocated for his sentence to include restrictions against contact with minors, their motion was not accepted. Police refused to issue a warning upon his release, and Tremblay has not been included in the Sex Offender Registry in Canada.
Media reports also indicate that between his release in 2004 and his arrest on drug charges in 2011, Aboriginal teenage girls in the legal custody of the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development were living with Tremblay in a house on Pender Island. Not long before his 2011 arrest, a Richmond housemate told CTV that Tremblay was planning to move to Montreal.
"Two girls are dead," said O'Shea, her voice shaking with rage and grief. "It's very sad. I'm a parent. When you look at another parent who's Aboriginal, and their child is dead because of this man, and he's going to get out of jail... It's despicable. It's disgusting. I don't know what to say to them but to cry, because it's so heartbreaking," said O'Shea, tears sliding down her cheeks and mixing with the rain on Main Street.
"At first the police thought they were dealing with two separate cases, but it turned out to be the same case. And, at the time, one of the girls was actually my girlfriend," said Steven, a young Aboriginal who lives in Vancouver and who only wanted to give his first name, to the Vancouver Media Co-op after the rally.
"When this guy gets prosecuted to the full extent of the law, that's when we know our girls will be safe again. That's when we'll know it'll be just this much safer, just to get that one guy off the streets again. That's what I look forward to here," he said. The young man is still hoping for justice almost a year after the murder of his girlfriend and their friend.
The statements of relatives and friends of the young women reportedly sexually assaulted and murdered by Tremblay echo the voices of many others from Vancouver's Aboriginal community, First Nations around the province and Downtown East Side women's organizations.
The inaction of police forces and government agencies in the face of startling numbers of missing and murdered women in British Columbia and across the country is highlighted in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry this year. Commemorative events are ongoing around the city, leading up to today's 20th annual Women's Memorial March in the DTES.
"March 2 will be one year [since the murder of Kayla Lalonde and Martha Jackson Hernandez], and that's when we'll have our very first celebration; [that's] when I come out of mourning for the first time. It's a long process," explained Bee.
"Keep him in jail forever, because that door does stop eventually," said Bee.
"It has to stop. Now." said O'Shea, as the rain continued to fall in Vancouver's Downtown East Side. "You have to show these youth, these Native youth, that they mean something, that they're not throwaways. And that their people didn't die and nothing happened."
Sandra Cuffe is a contributing member of the Vancouver Media Co-op (VMC) who lives in the Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood, in unceded Coast Salish territory.
This article was originally published by the VMC. A video of the interviews conducted February 3, edited by VMC contributing member Masrour Zoghi, can be viewed on the VMC website. Catch VMC coverage of events related to the BC Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and today's 20th annual Women's Memorial March in Vancouver. Background information on many issues addressed in this article is available from the Vancouver Media Co-op, and from groups such as Sisters in Spirit, Aboriginal Front Door and Justice for Girls.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.