Thursday, 16 November 2017

Ashley Simpson: Ashley's Army

Thirty-four years ago, this little nugget came into the world to spread joy, and her infectious smile, to everyone she encountered. 

Her parents called her Ashley Marie.

Her eyes sparkled like diamonds. Her mouth hinted at a smile that would melt a thousand hearts. 

Nineteen months ago, someone stole this child from Cindy and John Simpson. 

We want her back.

Someone, somewhere, knows something.

It's time to come clean, or make a mistake. 

We are watching.

We are Ashley's Army, and our reach is far and wide. 

If you killed her, we will find you, and you will be brought to justice. 

If you have her, we want her back. 

We will never give up.

The hills have eyes.

The lakes have ears. 

Her bones will rise.

People will talk. 

Lest you forget. 

Ashley's Army is watching you. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Ashley Simpson; Her father speaks

A message from John Simpson:

The support and love we are getting from family, friends and strangers is very overwelming to say the least. We love that and will never forget the love.

Our daughter Ashley has been missing for over 18 months; others have been missing much longer. 
At first, there was concern over the missing, then it died down to a dribble. Now, after 18 months of anguish, we get dozens of calls from the media -- papers, radio, Internet -- all with more concern about how things are. 

After numerous walks and interviews, searching and researching, barbecues and golf tournaments, over these 18 months, we haven't given up. 

Why did the media give up? Why did the community leaders give up? Why did our government and our police force give up?

Why didn't they see the missing as a national tragedy? Why did we, as a whole, leave our friends and neighbours out there, lost, to fend for themselves. Why did we give up looking, searching, caring?

If we had had thousands out looking, maybe as a community, we could heal the wounds that the missing and murdered make within our souls. Now is not the time to look away, now is the time to get involved in solving this crime of the missing.

When you hear of one missing in your area, go and help. Use whatever means at your disposal to help.

Don't let anyone become another victim. Show them that we care enough to help, Let's heal this wound and make it a better place.


Ashley Simpson: Dry Bones

Somewhere, in the killing field, the bones are coming alive.
No amount of fire can destroy the DNA.
Finally, our sisters will tell their tales, not using their voices, using their dry bones.
There is no tree stump heavy enough, no hole deep enough, to keep them silent.
Our sisters will finally tell their stories.
Through their dry bones.
Who will be listening?

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Ashley Simpson: Justice for our Stolen Sisters

There will be a gathering today at the Salmon River Store near Silver Creek, B.C. to protest the rising and alarming level of violence against women in the area. Protesters will meet at 11 a.m. with their drums, voices and fists to rage against the fact that six women have disappeared in their community in less than two years.

“Calling all hand drums, women and men," reads a Facebook posting. "Let's be there to call on continuing support against violence against women."
The protest comes during an horrific week in which more than 30 RCMP officers descended on the community to collect evidence at a farm near where my cousin Ashley Simpson disappeared along with the other women. For three days, the police scoured the farm and outbuildings as part of "an ongoing investigation" linked to recent charges against a person who threatened a sex worker with a weapon.
The investigation led police to human remains at the site. 
It may be weeks, or months, before the remains are identified, leaving in limbo the families of the missing including my own family. Our Ashley disappeared in April 2016. Since then five other women have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. 
In a heartbreaking turn of events, the RCMP this week assured Ashley's parents that the dig had nothing to do with her or any other victims. But the families believe there may a connection, as the property is not far from Yankee Flats Road where at least two women, Ashley and Deanna Wertz, disappeared. 
The events have opened new wounds for the families who just want the closure they deserve after all this time. 
The investigation also has people from the area in an uproar.
"I live on Yankee Flats and I am sickened by this," someone posted in a comment on my weblog. "We, as residents, were not made aware of two of the missing women. Ashley was brought to my attention by the RCMP at a road stop one night months after she had gone missing. 
"It is beyond disturbing to acknowledge this is happening let alone in your area. I am not certain why the police have to be so secretive."
The person who posted also wanted to thank the young woman who came forward after being threatened by a man with a firearm. 
"She had the courage to get away and contact the police with her story of him and his guns which put the police on this path. I hope that this is put to rest for the families and that they find peace."
Let us hope this is the beginning of the last chapter for Ashley, Deanna and the other women, and for the people of Salmon Arm. May our Stolen Sisters finally rest in peace. 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Ashley Simpson: 18 Months Gone

This week, the RCMP descended upon a property in Silver Creek, B.C. not far from the area where my cousin Ashley Simpson and two other area women went missing in 2016.

Word of the search spread like wildfire, as the RCMP set up a staging area in a local community hall. The cops were hard to miss with their backhoes and poles, as they combed every inch of the Salmon River Road property.

Back in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Simpson family heard about the search through the grapevine, and my cousin Cindy reached out to the RCMP. Other family members for Deanna Wertz and Caitlin Potts contacted the police as well.

Nothing to see here, they were told. The search was completely unrelated to the disappearance of their loved ones.

A man was arrested and charged with: disguising his face with the intent to commit an offence, intentionally discharging a firearm while reckless, uttering threats, careless use or storage of a firearm, possessing a weapon for dangerous purposes and possession of a controlled substance. The community will have to wait until October to hear the real story behind the arrest of Wayne Curtis Sagmoen.

But clearly, the man was well known to be a danger to the public.

In the meantime, the activity occurring in the Salmon Arm area has opened afresh the wounds of the families of these women, and heightened the fear in the small community where there are more women gone missing than fishing derbies held.

In November, Ashley would have turned 34. Instead of a birthday party, the family is putting its efforts into raising money to buy drones for use in spotting missing persons in areas where humans are unable to travel. They're also walking to raise awareness about this country's dirty little secret: the large number of unsolved cases related to murdered and missing women.

As of 2013, before the Salmon Arm trio went missing, the RCMP reported that there were 1,181 incidents of female homicides and unresolved missing Indigenous females. That number did not include cases of non-indigenous missing females, like my cousin Ashley.

The worst part about being the family of a murdered woman is never knowing what happened to her, and never getting to put her little body to rest. We continue to pray that someone will come forward and give the families of these three women some peace.

Meanwhile, every girl and woman in Salmon Arm is looking over her shoulder.

Viggo Kanstrup's Wonderful World

About two years ago, the doctors told Viggo Kanstrup he had inoperable liver cancer, and had a few months to live, tops.
Viggo took it in stride.
He'd been ill for a while, felled by a stroke, and then pneumonia while living in B.C. He was eeking out his days in a hotel, like some sort of Steinbeck character, playing a few jazz gigs, and spending his days in the library.
Viggo had no expectation of forgiveness from his family. He had been involved in a couple of scandals over the years, and simply expected to "fade away," as he told me later.
But the trajectory of his senior life changed, suddenly, when his son Erik arrived to scoop him up and bring him back to Ottawa.
All had been forgiven, and he was welcomed home by his kids and second wife, Francoise, who adopted him like a stray pup.
Like a lot of musicians I've known, Viggo took the "papa was a rolling stone" lyrics to heart. But now in his sunset, he was planted, and loving it.
Viggo was rarely alone over the past two years. Frankie and her kids, and his older children from his first marriage, kept him programmed. They got him into a hospice group that listened to jazz, his favorite, and they prepped him to walk his daughter Jess down the aisle.
In his off hours, Viggo connected with old friends, like me, Jean-Marc Carisse, the Liberal Caucus's Official Photographer, and Othmar Stein who was the Liberal Party Broadcast Director. We used to visit Viggo at the Liberal Party back when it was situated in a nearly condemned building at 102 Bank Street. This was back in the early eighties when Justin was still in short pants and his dad ruled the Hill.
We had more fun than monkeys. It was the time of Keith Davey, when politics were mirthful. More often than not, we'd spend afternoons at the press club playing shuffleboard and drinking ale. Our evenings were filled with the spirits of Wonderful Wednesdays, after which we endured long Terrible Thursdays.
We worked together only a couple of years, but our friendships were cemented. We were Liberals through and through, and were soon to get the shock of our lives. Ottawa was never the same in the months following PET's walk in the snow. For many of us, the scarlet L had left us less Liberal, feeling more like Losers.
A lot of us simply got out of Dodge.
Not Viggo. He stayed in Ottawa, and founded Print 2000, a successful quick print business. He continued to play music in various jazz bands about town until he up and left for B.C. in a move that stunned everyone, including his family and the jazz community.
Sometimes Viggo was hard to love and suffered his own demons. But he still had a big loving heart, an infectious smile, a low talking thick Danish accent, and a rapier wit. He had the charm of an ageing swashbuckling Errol Flynn.
And a lot of the same character. Which made him hard to resist.

Like most musicians, Viggo had a romantic and whimsical side. He met Frankie when she was just a beautiful young lass, and he was a middle aged printer with grown kids. He followed her down to L.A. and convinced her to return north to be with him.
I spoke at their wedding which was attended by Ottawa Liberal glitterati, and Buddy Guy.
"Everyone here is asking the same question," I said. "What is this beautiful girl doing with this old man?"
Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the evening, except the bride and the groom, who found my speech amusing. Viggo reminded me of that speech several times.
Unfortunately, the marriage lasted only a few years, but it produced three beautiful children: Erik, Jessica and Sonja.
As Frankie told me at the time, she was fond of Viggo, but the spark had died.
Viggo forged on, reinventing himself once again.

After returning to the family fold, Viggo called me up, and we met a few times with Frankie and Othmar to listen to fossilized jazz played by his old buddies.
Viggo and Frankie remarried not that long ago, and the old man did, indeed, walk young Jess down the aisle. It was the performance of his life.
This week, the family gathered to say goodbye to Viggo who finally succumbed to his disease.
He lived his life on his own terms, but he left this world surrounded by the love he brought into it.
He was a lucky man, and he knew it.
His was a wonderful world.

Monday, 18 September 2017

The Cancer Diaries: Road Trip

While the birds were flying south and folks were getting their last tans yesterday, I was taking a drive in the country with Jennette to one of her favorite spots - the funeral home and cemetery -- to visit her dad, mum and Roger.

Capital Gardens actually could be mistaken for a golf course, with its rolling greens; it's not until you get up close that you see all the benches and memorials topped by real and imitation shrubbery depending on which plan each resident picked for their final resting place.

It's a nice spot for a picnic, not at all creepy like the cemeteries of yore.

It's like a park that you're planted in.

We took this ride to finalize Jennette's funeral, which she actually started paying for after Roger died more than three years ago. She wanted to check her balance, and add on a few smaller details so that when her time eventually comes, she's off to the races.

I was with her way back when, meeting with Randy, the cemetery sales guy. He's become a friend to Jennette in recent years, and he's always up for a little coffee and TLC for one of his favorite clients.

Jennette is one of those frequent flyers at Capital Memorial. She buried her husband and her dad in rapid succession, in between bouts of mouth cancer. She's been there so many times, she can rhyme off the numbers on the pickle trays.

And she's a bit sweet on Randy, who is a teddy bear of a guy with a permanent tan from riding around on the golf cart he uses to squire widows back and forth to the resting places of their husbands.

We met him on the day after Roger took his final journey on Jennette's dime. Even though we loved Roger, in our way, we both were a little resentful that he had secretly pulled his pension when Jennette was posted to Washington for her job, and hadn't worked since Jesus was a glint in God's eye.

Even though we knew Roger was for the high jump, we were both a little shocked when he actually passed. Scott lost the bet that Roger would outlive Gordie, the Jurassic pug. And we were still reeling from the whole death at home scenario, with cops, coroners and the meat wagon.

Funerals are always weird and people do the weirdest things. During our meeting with the young funeral director, for example, I found it strange that Jennette asked her to check Roger's pocket because she thought he had a twenty. Nope! He'd spent it before he took his last supper of pate, crackers and opioids. A scallywag to the end.

We met Randy when Jennette decided to prepay her funeral a week or so after Roger's planting. She reasoned it made sense because she was now a widow with no children. As per usual, she didn't want to be a bother to anyone.

So for three years, she's been coughing up payments, and now she was getting ready to cash in.

Randy had no idea that Jennette's cancer had returned. It was only when he saw the bandage on her chin that he knew something was up. And so we spent one of the last glorious days of the season signing papers and deciding on flower arrangements.

She picked red carnations that she thought would go well with the urn she'd chosen, which has a lovely little hummingbird on it. She said she wanted an afternoon service, because she has never been a morning person.

"Really?" I said. "It's not like you're going to have to get up for it!"

But afternoon, it was. We also had Randy select a minister whom Jennette would meet. This was my suggestion because I've always hated those services conducted by ministers who have never met the deceased. At least I thought, the emcee could get the sense of her. Jennette got that.

"It's such a shame that I won't be there to enjoy it," she said as she nearly made us roadkill on the highway coming back. (She has a heavy foot, and is a very aggressive driver for a person who can barely see over the steering wheel.) "But I wanted to make sure that I got the funeral I wanted and now it's done."

I had suggested to her a Viking funeral up at Geri's cottage, which she declined. Randy said they had a nice pond out back but they might need to get a permit.

In the end, we decided we'd sprinkle a bit of her foot and head into her favorite waters at Lac O'Neil.

"Just make sure the dogs don't get them," she warned, then grinned.

It's nice having Jennette as my person.

Knowing her, when she finally meets the Grim Reaper, she'll ask for a second opinion.