Monday, March 28

B.C. expands scope of missing women inquiry


Missing Women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal at a community forum in Vancouvers' Downtown Eastside on Jan. 19, 2011.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG files

VANCOUVER — The Attorney General announced today that the government is broadening the scope of Missing Women inquiry to include more voices from northern B.C.

The government decided to grant a request by inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal to add a study commission, which will begin in June.

The inquiry's initial terms of reference last September only included a hearing commission, a formal hearing with lawyers allowed to cross-examine witnesses who will testify about events before the arrest of serial killer Robert Pickton, who preyed on woman living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

“The study commission will provide more information for the commission, while ensuring the police investigations regarding Robert Pickton are fully examined to determine if proper procedures were followed, and whether improvements can and should be made in any future investigations of missing women and suspected multiple homicides," Attorney General Barry Penner said in a statement.

The study commission will allow the public to make oral and written submissions in a less formal setting, inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal said today.

He said he wanted to include more people in northern B.C. living along the so-called Highway of Tears, where many women have been reported missing or were found murdered over the years.

"We're going to where the women started to go missing," Oppal explained.

He said the study commission is expected to spend two weeks in June hearing submissions from people living in four or five cities along Highway 16, including Prince Rupert, Hazelton and Prince George.

The inquiry will move into its second phase — the hearing commission — in September.

Hearings commissions can make findings of fact, including possible misconduct in the police handling of reports of the women who disappeared from Vancouver streets between Jan. 23, 1997 and Feb. 5, 2002, when Pickton was first arrested.

The hearing commission will also review the January 1998 decision by the criminal justice branch of the attorney-general's ministry to stay charges against Pickton for the assault of a Downtown Eastside sex trade worker.

The hearing commission now is reviewing applications from groups seeking legal standing to appear to formal hearings in Vancouver.

Oppal’s report is scheduled to be submitted to the attorney general by or before Dec. 31.

Pickton was charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder. He was convicted by a jury in 2007 on six counts of second-degree murder. The Crown decided not to proceed with a second trial on the murders of another 20 women. One charged involving an unknown victim, called Jane Doe, was quashed by the trial judge.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Saturday, March 26

Author to discuss humanizing Vancouver's lost women

Belleville-born Stevie Cameron will speak about Pickton case
Posted 56 minutes ago

To some it's merely a book, but for Stevie Cameron, her latest work is also a memorial.

The Belleville-born journalist will speak Saturday at the Empire Theatre in a talk entitled Everyone's Sister.

She's the author of On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women (Knopf Canada, 2010).

Cameron will recount her roughly nine years of research and the writing of its 752 pages.

In a telephone interview from her Toronto home, Cameron said the book is not just about "one of Canada's greatest tragedies."

Pickton was convicted in 2007 for the murders of six women, though police have said they believe he was responsible for 49 killings. He is serving life in prison.

"This is much more than just a horror show," Cameron said. "This is a story about caring and heroic people.

"People across the country care about this case.

"It's the best book I've ever written," she said simply.

And others have agreed.

On the Farm became the first true-crime book shortlisted for the prestigious Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.

Cameron was asked in 2002, the year of Pickton's arrest, to write the book. She found the case "heartbreaking, fascinating, completely absorbing.

"I was able to tell the stories of each of the women who disappeared — which you won't find anywhere else. There are so many."

Not all of the victims' relatives agreed to be interviewed, but Cameron was committed to telling every story she could.

"I thought everybody's life should mean something," she said, adding her job was to

"try to make the reader understand why they mattered and how they mattered.

"The families were very honest with me. They told me about abuse; they told me about alcoholism."

Cameron said she developed some affection for the families and their lost girls. She noted they shouldn't be stereotyped: they came from diverse backgrounds and two were even millionaires.

She said it's too easy to dismiss the women as addicts or people who chose a darker path.

"These girls didn't make their own choices."

Despite their diversity, there were some common themes.

For many, their horrifying fate began with boyfriends who introduced them to drugs and eventually forced them into prostitution.

The hunt for their killer was "an amazing detective story," Cameron said.

"The forensics of this case were absolutely fascinating. They broke new ground because they'd never had a case like this before."

Data from pap smears of many women are stored in the British Columbia Cancer Research Centre's files. Since literally only a few bits of the victims remained — a tooth, for example — investigators used the cancer centre's records to identify the remains.

"Most people just say to me, 'I don't want to read that,'" said Cameron.

"I thought if I could write it like a detective story then I could maybe make people read it."

But despite the grim details, Cameron said she isn't sure the work changed her.

"I didn't know how lucky I was to do it."

She said writing "On the Take," an exposé on Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's two terms, was "wonderful fun." But her other books weren't as enjoyable to do, partly because of the need to avoid lawsuits while writing damning political material.

Not so with Pickton: as Cameron noted, convicted serial killers don't sue.

"It was a joyful experience for me because I felt in the long run I was able to create some sort of memorial for these women who died and for some of the heroes in this."

Cameron's Saturday address runs from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Empire Theatre, 321 Front St. Tickets are $5 at the door or at Greenley's bookstore, 258 Front St.

Saturday, March 19

YouTube video mocks Pickton killings

A comedic song about Robert Pickton is stirring up anger among victims' family members.


Sandra Gagnon was appalled to find a YouTube video of a comedian’s song about Robert Pickton called ‘The Ballad of Bobby Pickton’ last weekend.

Photograph by: TIMES, files

Maple Ridge resident Sandra Gagnon was shocked and disturbed by what she found on the Internet last weekend.

Gagnon, whose sister Janet Gail Henry went missing from the Downtown Eastside 14 years ago, and whom she believes was killed on Robert Pickton's farm, saw a video of comedian Richard Lett singing a song titled 'The Ballad of Bobby Pickton.'

It was uploaded to YouTube on Feb. 14, 2007, and despite requests to remove the video, it is still available for viewing.

"I'm pretty angry that Richard Lett is making a joke out of the women who were murdered on the Pickton farm," said Gagnon.

"What also got me too was the audience laughing," she added. "Comedy is comedy, but this isn't comedy."

In the song, Lett uses an upbeat tune to describe Pickton picking up prostitutes downtown and taking them back to his farm.

Some of his lyrics include lines such as "the rope was tight, the knife was sharp, she barely felt a thing. Bobby kicked up the generator and started processing."

"Who does he think he is?" asked Gagnon. "He even talks about the pigs."

Two years ago, Lett commented on the YouTube video saying, "This performance is crass, racist, graphic and violent, and, oh yes, misogynist. That's the point!"

On Tuesday, he wrote, "It was four years ago, and never intended for those people who knew the victims. It is intended to shock people out of their complacency about these sorts of things ... The anger you feel towards me is misdirected. You think I did this piece because I don't care -- in fact the opposite is true."

Gagnon, who has found solace and comfort talking to people on Facebook, some of whom are family members of Pickton's victims, said it is uncalled for when people make a mockery of people who were brutally murdered.

"When I see stuff like this, it opens it all up again," she said. "It's like opening old wounds."

One of Gagnon's friends has started a Facebook group called Is This How We Want Our Stolen Sisters Remembered? Anyone can join and help in the group's efforts to remove the video from YouTube and other Internet sites.

© Copyright (c) Maple Ridge Times

Friday, March 11

Memory walk against violence to women marches home to Abbotsford

Standing together against violence to women


Gwynne Hunt has organized the first ever Abbotsford Memory March in remembrance of the hundreds of women who fall victim to violence each year in Canada.

Photograph by: Jean Konda-Witte, Times

Gwynne Hunt believes the death of any woman and girl due to violence is inexcusable.

So inexcusable that she has organized an Abbotsford Memory March, a silent walk and ceremony in remembrance of the hundreds of women that go missing or are murdered each year across Canada.

Hunt hopes Abbotsford residents of all genders and ages feel equally outraged, and will attend the march on Saturday to remember the victims of violence and work for change.

The event follows hard on the heels of International Women's Day today, a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

While women have secured many gains over the last few decades, freedom from violence is not one of them, said Hunt.

"We had the feminist movement in the 70s, but 40 years later the violence against women is still the same," she said.

"There's lot of equality in other ways, but not as far as violence is concerned."

An average of 200 women and girls are murdered annually, said Hunt, who intends to display the names of almost 4,000 victims of violence at the end of the march in Thunderbird Memorial Square.

The catalogue of names is something Hunt took over in 2005 from another women's rights activist, Mary Billy, who started the Femicide List after the Montreal Massacre in 1989 when Marc Lepine murdered 14 women.

"Mary wanted to list the names," said Hunt.

"We all knew the name of Marc Lepine, but she couldn't find the names of the victims anywhere."

Seeing the names of murdered and missing women is important and makes their deaths more real, more concrete, she added.

"We need to honour all these women and children who are gone," Hunt said.

"I don't think many people know how many women are dying in a violent way."

The Memory March is the fifth to be organized by Hunt, but it is the first time it's being held in Abbotsford.

Previously, the event took place in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, but Hunt decided it was time to bring attention to violence against women in her hometown.

"I feel strongly there needs to be more of this kind of action in this city, and other smaller and medium-size cities, rather than just in large urban centres."

The march is not just about grieving, but empowerment as well, as participants feel connected and hopeful of change, said Hunt.

Everyone is welcome at the event, she added.

"Feminism today is everyone working together [for change], rather than pointing fingers," she said.

"We need to change the violence in homes and the violence we subject our children to.

"If we become more aware it, maybe we can change the problem."

w The Memory March is Saturday, March 19 and starts at 10 a.m. from the Mill Lake water spray park at 2310 Emerson Street. The march will travel to Thunderbird Memorial Square adjacent to City Hall for the final ceremony and vigil. This year the Memory March is followed by arts performances at the International Celebration of Women from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and/or from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Best Western Regency Conference Centre, 32110 Marshall Road. Tickets cost $6.

For more information visit

© Copyright (c) Abbotsford Times

Thursday, March 10

Death certificates place missing women’s deaths at Pickton’s farm


Vancouver—Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Mar. 10, 2011

The B.C. Coroner’s Office has finally issued death certificates for several women who went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, indicating that they died at serial killer Robert Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm, although how they died remains unknown.

The death certificates were sent to all the families of the missing women who requested them, Vancouver regional coroner Owen Court said Thursday in a statement released by his office.

The women were presumed to have died at the Pickton farm, Mr. Court said, adding that the deaths were private family matters and he was not at liberty to discuss it further.

The death certificates have been issued almost a decade after police began digging up Mr. Pickton’s property. For years, the coroner’s office has refused to issue the paperwork, waiting for authorities to confirm how the women died. The lack of a death certificate created problems for families who could not gain access to the missing women’s personal property, bank accounts and insurance.

Ernie Crey received the death certificate for his sister Dawn earlier this week. At the time of her disappearance in November, 2000, Ms. Crey was working as a prostitute in the Downtown Eastside and was addicted to heroin. She was 43 years old.

Her family were told by police in January, 2004 that her DNA was found on the Pickton farm. Five years later, police advised Crown prosecutors that they had compiled evidence for charges against Mr. Pickton for the murder of Ms. Crey and five other women.

However the prosecution decided not to pursue the recommendation of criminal charges after Mr. Pickton was convicted of second degree murder of six women and sentenced to life in prison. Crown counsel also dropped outstanding murder charges against Mr. Pickton for the deaths of 20 more women. Police have said Mr. Pickton may have been responsible for as many as 49 deaths.

The Crey family was told last year that all that could be found of Ms. Crey on the Pickton property was blood on an undergarment.

Opening the mail with his sister’s death certificate stirred up strong emotions, even though Mr. Crey was anticipating the envelope. “I was taken aback by it. It was like proof positive that she is dead,” he said. “There was a finality about it. I did not expect to respond to the arrival of the death certificate like I did.”

As long as authorities did not confirm the place of her death, he held out hope that maybe she did not die on the Pickton farm, he said.

Mr. Crey said he was particularly troubled by the lack of charges against others who may have played a role in the death of the women. “He had people in his confidence that were basically coaching women to leave the Downtown Eastside and go to his property. And they did,” he said.

Mr. Crey said he would like to see the Liberal administration under premier-designate Christy Clark consider re-opening the outstanding murder cases.

Even if Mr. Pickton is not charged with killing his sister Dawn, others who were involved in bringing his sister to Mr. Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm should be brought to justice, he said.

“All the attention so far has been on Mr. Pickton. . . but now there should be discussions about others who may have been involved and played a role,” Mr. Crey said. Mr. Pickton’s confidantes have “wiggled off the hook,” he said. “That [issue] has to be looked at.”

“I don’t mean to sound bitter,” he added, “ but I think [the Christy Clark government] should be sensitive and respond to the families who want to see more done.. . they need to take another look at it and try to decide if other charges should be pursued.”

Constable Jana McGuinness, of the Vancouver Police Department, said Thursday the Vancouver police do not plan to make comments about the case ahead of the Missing Women Commission which has been appointed to review the investigation into the Pickton case. The commission is expected to hold public hearings alter this year.

© Copyright 2011 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 7

The Disposable Woman


FORTY-THREE minutes into his “special live edition” with Charlie Sheen on Monday night, Piers Morgan finally got around to asking his guest a real question. Before that, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Sheen had mostly traded chuckles and anecdotes about multiday benders, inflated network salaries and meet-ups in Aspen, Colo. But then, after three commercial breaks, Mr. Morgan inquired, “Have you ever hit a woman?”

Two minutes later, with Mr. Morgan apparently satisfied with the actor’s answer that no, women should be “hugged and caressed,” that line of questioning was over.

The New York Times

Thursday, March 3

Expand public inquiry into B.C. missing women's cases: commissioner

By: Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press

Posted: 03/3/2011 11:56 AM | Comments: 0 | Last Modified: 03/3/2011 5:16 PM

VANCOUVER - The head of a sweeping public inquiry into British Columbia's missing women investigation wants to give those most hurt by the disappearances a greater voice during upcoming hearings.

On Thursday, Wally Oppal released a status report asking the provincial government to expand the inquiry to include a study commission.

"As a result of concerns expressed by the community ... I am recommending that the lieutenant governor in council grant the commission the powers of a joint study and hearing commission," the report said.

In an interview, Oppal said the response to the inquiry from those who have lost loved ones has been "overwhelming."

"We want to make sure that everybody who wants to be heard is heard, that's really the object of this suggestion that we made."

Expanding to a study inquiry would allow people to testify without being sworn in and they wouldn't need a lawyer, Oppal said.

"When you have an inquiry of this sort many people come forward, particularly those people who feel aggrieved and people who are vulnerable. So for that reason we want people to feel comfortable."

Oppal was asked to lead the inquiry shortly after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld six second-degree murder convictions against Robert Pickton last year.

The former pig farmer was charged with killing 26 women, convicted of six and the remaining 20 charges were stayed. The DNA from six more women was found on Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C., but he was not charged in those deaths.

Oppal has already granted legal standing at the hearing commission to affected parties including the Vancouver Police Department, the Criminal Justice Branch and a lawyer representing eight families of women whose remains were found on the Pickton farm.

Pickton's victims were among a list of dozens and dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver's impoverished Downtown Eastside over decades.

A police task force investigating the disappearances has said that between 1978 and 2001 about 65 women went missing from the Vancouver area.

Another 32 women and girls have vanished or were murdered along an 800-kilometre stretch on Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern B.C., referred to as the Highway of Tears.

Oppal said his mandate won't change. He will still look into the actions of Vancouver police, the RCMP, and the Crown in the Pickton case.

But other Canadian public inquiries have been known to drag on as budgets balloon, and B.C. Attorney General Barry Penner was reluctant to immediately endorse any change to the inquiry terms.

Penner said Oppal's report is supposed to be in by the end of the year.

"I am keen to find out if there are specific things we can learn from what may not have gone well in the investigation into the arrest and conviction of Mr. Pickton."

But Penner notes the current process can be adversarial, with potential of a finding of wrongdoing, which sets up the need for government-funded lawyers.

He said money could be saved under the "less legalistic" study process. Penner said approval would have to come from the new premier Christy Clark and the cabinet.

Vancouver Police have already released a report reviewing the department's actions into the missing women case.

The report was critical of its own department and the RCMP investigation, and in it Vancouver Deputy Chief Const. Doug LePard admitted lives could have been saved if the case had been handled differently.

Since his appointment, Oppal said he's read many reports into serial killers such as Paul Bernardo, Clifford Olson and Ted Bundy.

"Some of the same mistakes there appear to have been made here in the Pickton inquiry, we don't know that yet."

But he said after reading the other reports, it seems the way these people get away with murder and the mistakes made in the investigations are similar.

"That is the unwillingness or the inability of police to share relevant information so as to prevent crimes from taking place."