Tuesday, January 6

Fallout from Pickton case leads to better support for vulnerable victims

Policy change encourages more witnesses, victims to testify in court


In an artist’s rendering, Gina Houston, left, was the Crown’s first star witness in the trial of serial killer Robert Pickton, right.


There will be more support for vulnerable victims and witnesses at criminal trials under new provincial rules that respond to recommendations from the 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

One of the key recommendations from the hefty inquiry report, written by former attorney general Wally Oppal, was for B.C.’s criminal justice system to be less alienating, especially for women who work in the sex trade.

Oppal heard from dozens of witnesses at the inquiry, called to examine the police investigation into Vancouver’s missing women and the prosecution of serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton in 2007.

More than two years after the release of his report, which made 65 recommendations for change, the criminal justice branch announced policy changes Tuesday designed to encourage more vulnerable people to participate in trials.

“Crown Counsel should keep in mind that vulnerable victims and witnesses may be particularly subject to pressure, intimidation, and interference,” the new policy acknowledges.

Vulnerability can be influenced by a person’s job, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental health, substance use, language, legal status, poverty and history of abuse, the new policy states.

The attorney general now promises prosecutors, dealing with vulnerable people, will:

• be assigned early to files, have specialized training, provide regular updates, try to get early trial dates, and stay with the case from start to finish;

• pursue publication bans, protective orders and accommodations such as testifying by video or behind a screen when applicable;

• work with vulnerable people’s social supports to try to overcome their reluctance to testify;

• ask for warrants that protect the vulnerable victims/witnesses when an accused is released.

In an interview, Oppal said the changes are necessary because the justice system is very adversarial, with one side challenging the testimony of the other.

“I think all of us in the system need to be more sensitive to victims,” said Oppal, a former B.C. Appeal Court justice. “If the system is going to have any credibility then it has to take into account the effects of the crime on the victim, and particularly the effects on vulnerable women.”

Oppal noted in his report that a vulnerable person’s evidence should not be devalued, as it was in the case of an important Pickton witness — a drug-addicted sex-trade worker — who the Crown dismissed as too unstable.

Many vulnerable women are reluctant to testify, often due to fear for their safety, but some of these new changes will help, said Kate Gibson, executive director of WISH, a Vancouver drop-in centre for sex-trade workers.

“It is hard to keep going back (to the prosecutor’s office) and meeting somebody new every time, but what this focuses on is keeping the file with the same Crown counsel from the beginning,” she said.

“And it is important to have Crown counsel with experience in the area of vulnerable people, and a view of the world that is compassionate.”

Gibson wished, though, that the new policy was more specific about protecting women engaged in the sex trade, as they work in a “criminalized environment.”

Indeed, a lawyer who testified at the inquiry said Crown policy should address “the unique vulnerability of sex-trade workers and the inordinate incidence of violence directed toward them.”


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Saturday, December 20

Hales guilty of murder


More than 10 years after the disappearance of Daleen Bosse, Douglas Hales has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of the "caring mother" and aspiring teacher.

Photograph by: Gord Waldner, The StarPhoenix

Douglas Hales is going to prison for the 2004 murder of Daleen Bosse, a crime he didn’t speak about until meeting undercover police officers four years later.

A Saskatoon judge convicted Hales, 36, of second-degree murder in the death of Bosse, a 25-year-old university student and married mother of one child. Hales admitted to burning her body and was also convicted of offering an indignity to a body.

In Court of Queen’s Bench Wednesday, Justice Gerald Allbright sentenced Hales to life in prison with no eligibility of parole for 15 years. Hales’s lawyer said they will appeal the conviction.

Bosse’s loved ones, who were in court nearly every day during the trial earlier this year, quietly celebrated the conviction and sentencing with hugs and tears. They also made sure Bosse is remembered as a loving mother and aspiring educator.

“She was beautiful. She was full of life. She was everything,” Edna Bignell, Bosse’s aunt, told reporters outside court.

“She had happiness, joy. Now she doesn’t have that. It’s gone. He took her life because he figured she was just another Indian woman and she didn’t count. She counted to everybody.”

She said the trial was difficult for the family, but they were glad to see Hales convicted.

“He deserves what he gets. I hope someday he feels the pain we all feel ... He hurt the whole family. He ripped us apart and now we’re trying hard to mend. The pain is like a knife stuck in your chest,” Bignell said.

The Bosse and Muskego families waited, first to see if the young mother would return home after she vanished on May 18, 2004, and then waited for Saskatoon police to treat the case as more than a missing person investigation.

When police charged Hales with murder in Aug. 2008 after an undercover operation during which he led undercover RCMP to Bosse’s remains outside Saskatoon, the family waited to learn what had happened to her.

After numerous delays, the trial start in May and had almost finished when the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision that called into question the admissibility of evidence gathered through “Mr. Big” stings, in which undercover officers pose as members of a criminal organization to gain the trust of a suspect and elicit a confession, as was done in Hales’s case.

The decision caused a further delay in the conclusion of the trial.

“We have been waiting 10 long years for justice for Daleen and her daughter,” said sister-in-law Monica Bosse in a victim impact statement she read before sentencing.

In his decision, Allbright said we might never know exactly what happened the night Bosse died, but he it was likely Hales either strangled her or killed her in the fire, if she hadn’t already died.

“We’ll never know if there was one last breath in Daleen,” Allbright told court.

Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga said RCMP and Saskatoon police should be commended for setting up the Mr. Big sting.

“Had it not been for their efforts ... this case would probably have never been solved and Daleen may have remained a missing person today,” Miazga told reporters.

He said the decision bolsters the case for continued use of Mr. Big stings.

“As long as you have a good solid set of facts and the police conduct themselves appropriately, I think the Crown and the police can continue to use Mr. Big operations with success,” he said. “Generally, speaking it’s a positive experience for the future of that technique.”

Hales maintained Bosse died of alcohol poisoning and he burned her body in a panic so he wouldn’t be charged with murder. In several recorded conversations with undercover officers and to police after his arrest, Hales said he fatally strangled Bosse after they met at a Saskatoon nightclub where he worked.

Defence lawyer Bob Hrycan said his appeal will likely be based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, which tightened evidence rules for Mr. Big sting cases.

“Basically, he was tried based on a set of rules which were shelved by the Supreme Court of Canada before the verdict on this case was rendered,” Hrycan told reporters.

“That has never happened in my experience, where the playing field changes that dramatically. It happened here, and obviously has effects in terms of the verdict.”

Allbright said in his decision that the new rules were applied and Hales’s confessions are reliable, partly because he led undercover officers to Bosse’s previously undiscovered remains.

A second-degree murder conviction carries a life sentence and minimum 10 years of parole ineligibility, which Allbright bumped to 15 years in part because of the level of violence involved in the crime.

Hales told court before his sentencing that he accepts responsibility.

“I don’t expect anyone to forgive me. I don’t deserve it,” he said.



© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix