When I was a kid in the ‘80s, the “white panel van” became synonymous with evil, one that stole confidence of free ranging from a generation of kids in BC and Canada. The white panel van was the hallmark of notorious Canadian serial killer Clifford Robert Olson.
Visceral are my memories of our family tuning in to the evening news with such anticipation and hope to hear that this child-killing psychopath was in custody.
Even as I type, it’s still shudder-inducing to think of what it might have been like with social media during that dark time.
It began on November 17, 1980, with the abduction and murder of a Surrey 12-year-old named Christine Weller. It felt like a decade passed before we finally heard word on August 12, 1981 of Olson’s arrest.
Fast forward to this week. Many who lived through that Clifford Robert Olson era of evil found themselves “white panel van” triggered as allegations of abductions started swirling on social media throughout Southern BC.
When tweets rolled through my feed with videos and memes of unsubstantiated stories of abduction attempts and aggression toward women it was a gut punch – one that saw my Middle immediately simply reply with “@RCMP”.
Right now, it’s time to absorb the importance of fact-checking and sourcing truths to try stem the tide of conjecture, and slow the spread of fear associated with misinformation.
Coquitlam RCMP swiftly issued a statement specifically intended to stop the spread of “internet abduction rumours.”
The header read: Important: Unproven stories that appear on Facebook, TikTok or Twitter should not be trusted.
The release went on to address anyone posting their fears about going for a jog, work a night shift or walk down the street on their own: “we want to assure those people that your community is safe because there is no information to date that supports a spike or trend in attempted abductions.”
Interestingly, the pivot wasn’t to relief, but to some this message read as “women should not be trusted.” Cue another statement to apologize for wording and reiterate what really matters, what steps can be taken if anyone feels unsafe, or has been a victim of an abduction attempt, or saw one, and it certainly does not start with “post it on social media.” The first step is to call the police.
In this week’s Middle, I want to share lessons my Mom gave me as I began to free-range as a young girl, during the CRO era.
First she taught me how to hold my keys in my hand, so I could defend myself suddenly, if I had to.
How a ponytail could put you at higher risk; it’s a way to grab from behind. And how to lay-down the world’s hardest kick to a very specific target.
More Middle offered here to protect oneself in real time and real life rather than online:
Be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times
Avoid distractions like earbuds or texting while walking
Wear brightly coloured clothing
Walk in pairs when in isolated areas
Keep your car doors locked when inside the vehicle
These pointers are not fear-mongering – unfortunately. Instead, they are defensive tools for everyone to learn, but mostly women. We deal with vulnerability that men often do not even realize.
Take this as a gentle reminder to be safe – not fearful – and look out for one another.
If you feel unsafe, or see a crime in progress, call the police. Immediately.
Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.
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