RENEE WILLMON

helping the dead tell their tales


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Vancouver Police Launch Cold Case Website

Yesterday, the Vancouver Police Department launched what Steve Mertl described as “what may be the country’s most ambitious, user-friendly cold-case web site” in his coverage of the launch. Many police websites list basic statistics and details on cold cases, but the VPD has expanded on this model. By publishing case file information on their new Cold Case Website, the VPD is inviting members of the public to make like a TCAK Squad Member and review the available information, then apply their own experience, insights and areas of expertise to shed new light on these unsolved cases.

VPD adopts TCAK model

The squad members, producers, and victims’ family members of To Catch A Killer have long believed in the benefits associated with fresh eyes on cold cases, and demonstrated the strength of multidisciplinary investigations unhindered by the biases and habits associated with traditional police approaches. A first-of-its-kind true-crime documentary series, TCAK follows a multi-disciplinary squad of civilians led by Mike Arntfield as we investigate unsolved Ontario homicide cases. Each episode documents a six-week investigation carried out with the blessing of the victims’ families and friends, as the squad brings modern perspectives and techniques to each case.

VPD Cold Case Website

VPD Cold Case Website

VPD Deputy Chief Adam Palmer acknowledged that “the method and speed by which people communicate has evolved, and that the Internet plays a huge role in our lives. Our goal is to reach as large an audience as possible to give people an opportunity to provide valuable input on homicide cases, some of which have been inactive or “cold” for a number of years”. Similar to initial “facts of the case” meetings led by Dr. Michael Arntfield in the TCAK Squad Room, the website posts a summary overview of each case (there are eight so far), media stories from the time, locations of interest, and photographs of interest. Continue reading

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Behind the Scenes of TCAK: Centering the Voices of Sex Workers in Social Justice Movements

A Guest post by Claire Venet-Rogers

The TCAK Squad’s investigation into the unsolved murder of Nadine Gurczenski revealed troubling trends in the lack of reporting on acts of violence towards women involved in the adult entertainment and sex work industries. In addition to the personal tragedy experienced by her daughter and ex-husband, Nadine’s case reveals how the stigmatization that accompanies employment in adult entertainment and sex work perpetuates the violence committed against victims by blaming them for living risky lifestyles, and structurally hinders progress in the search for their killers by muffling their stories. I am pleased to invite my colleague Claire Venet-Rogers to discuss some of these broader issues in the stigmatization and criminalization of sex work, and provide a constructive starting point to humanize sex workers and their role in our communities.
Claire Venet-Rogers

Claire Venet-Rogers

Claire is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Anthropology program at the University of Western Ontario. As a graduate student, Claire founded The Committee for Women in Anthropology with the goal of spreading awareness of the discrimination faced by women anthropologists on campus, in their community, work places and during fieldwork, and creating a safe supportive space for students to discuss their own experiences of oppression. The committee was Claire’s first foray into feminism, from which she developed her model of feminism that strives to be anti-colonial, sex-positive, and focused on the intersectionality of oppression. Her approach to advocacy focuses on centering the voices of the most vulnerable within social justice movements, discouraging victim-blaming and shaming, and encouraging consensus and non-hierarchical models of activism.

A woman’s value should not be tied to her sexual activities, and her death should incite shock and outrage rather than the often-common response of victim-blaming and shaming. We need to start putting sex workers at the center of our movements and give them the independence and agency they deserve.

                                                – Claire Venet-Rogers

The stigmatization of women working within the adult entertainment and sex work industries is prevalent in Canada and has been for decades. Why, when sex workers go missing or are murdered, does the general public not take to the streets in outrage? Why are people murdering women, trans, and queer sex workers and getting away with it? Why are people too uncomfortable to talk about it? It seems, unless it is to advocate for more institutionalized state intervention and stricter policies around sex work, many people are too uncomfortable to talk about the experiences of sex workers in Canada. With the recent publicity Nadine Gurczenski’s story has received after the airing of To Catch A Killer, hopefully the struggles that adult entertainers and sex workers face are more welcome topics of conversation in living rooms across Canada. That said, however, I want to take this opportunity to stress that while we do need to address the identity and agency of adult entertainers and sex workers, they do not need to be “saved” from themselves or their professions. Many of the issues that face adult entertainment professionals and sex workers stem from the criminalization of their work, and the stigmatization associated with their role in society. Beyond a complete overhaul of not only laws and policies, we need to reform the way we think about sex work if sex workers are to be safe doing their jobs. The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision to decriminalize sex work can be viewed as an opportunity to provide a safer environment for sex workers, yet there is concern that resulting new policies will further harm sex workers, despite their good intentions. This post will highlight some of the problematic assumptions that are inherent to reactionary suggestions for new policies and laws.

While many sex workers and sex work activists rejoiced at the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to decriminalize sex work, many abolitionist (anti-prostitution) groups were dismayed, and are encouraging the Supreme Court of Canada to rule in favour of the “Nordic Model”, which is an “end demand” approach to prostitution. Many within this abolitionist movement define prostitution as a violent act done to a woman, but also recognize that penalizing a sex worker is further marginalizing an already vulnerable person. Instead, they support an “end demand” approach that targets johns by criminalizing the purchase of sexual services. This approach is appealing to many for obvious reasons. Firstly, many people understand that women who are in the sex trade usually, though not always, have very few other options presented to them (Sayers , December 2013). At the same time, few people sympathize with the johns, and so it would seem to make sense not to punish already marginalized sex workers and go after the purchasers instead. This approach usually advocates for harsher consequences such as longer jail time or higher fines, public humiliation (usually either the publication of the picture and name of the john in the newspaper, cable television, internet, or even billboards), and for “john schools” to teach men the harms of prostitution (Koyama 2011). Advocates for the “end demand” approach have been growing in strength, despite the voices of many sex workers stating that this approach is not only unrealistic but unsafe. Continue reading


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TB Research Profiled on CTV London

Jan Sims of CTV London came to visit the Bioarchaeology Lab at Western University this week to learn more about my PhD research, as I try to catch a killer of another sort – the bacterial pathogen second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent: Tuberculosis. Watch the clip here.

CTVReneeIn addition to my investigative role on To Catch A Killer, I study the impact of Tuberculosis and how it has changed over time by analyzing the internal structure of human bone using medical and micro-CT imaging. By examining the skeletal remains of individuals who suffered from Tuberculosis in the pre-antibiotic era, my research is contributing to our understanding of the past movement of people and pathogens by identifying the effects of disease-causing bacteria that persist in the archaeological record. This increased understanding of the past experience of TB is crucial to contextualize the present experience of the disease and potentially anticipate future trends in its spread.

My research is conducted in collaboration with the Huron-Wendat Nation, whose ancestors I study, to investigate their health history. By examining The Ancestors’ remains, we hope to learn more about the type of illnesses that affected them, and how trade relations with European explorers impacted their health in the 17th century. Using detailed 3D images acquired using medical and micro-CT, I can conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses that isn’t accessible through macroscopic, or conventional microscopic methods of analysis. In addition to shedding light on the impact of TB on the human skeleton, this research will preserve a permanent digital record of irreplaceable human remains, that can be printed in 3D for future teaching, research, and ongoing heritage preservation.