Monday, January 31

Activist Communique: Vancouver -- 20th Annual February 14th Women's Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women |

Activist Communique: Vancouver -- 20th Annual February 14th Women's Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women |

Missing Woman Commission hears from groups seeking official status

Missing Woman Commission hears from groups seeking official status

VANCOUVER -- Missing women's inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal appealed Monday to dozens of lawyers representing scores of special interest groups to form coalitions so the inquiry into what went wrong in the Robert Pickton case can proceed in an orderly fashion.

"We want recommendations and advice," he told the horde of lawyers whose clients are seeking official standing for when the commission begins hearing evidence.

"We want to write a thorough report but we don't want to hear the same submissions over and over again."

The groups include first nations organizations, advocates for women and women's equality, those representing the interests of sex-trade workers or drug users, anti-poverty groups, social activists, legal and social organizations.

The object isn't to force people into coalitions, Oppal said.

"We want to hear from everyone. We are dealing with important issues. Horrible tragedies have taken place and we want to know what happened."

Earlier, he opened the proceedings by referring to the enormity of Pickton's crimes.

"The Pickton trial and investigation revealed some of the most horrific crimes in Canadian history. Crimes against women, crimes against vulnerable women and crimes against all of us.

"While the conclusion of the legal proceedings answered some of the questions as far as the guilt of the accused was concerned, there remain many questions outstanding and unanswered. We will attempt to find those answers," said Oppal, a former B.C. Supreme Court justice and attorney-general.

The commission will probe the actions of the various police agencies that dealt with the missing women cases and the investigation of Pickton from Jan. 23, 1997, to Feb. 5, 2002. It will also probe the actions of the criminal justice branch in deciding to stop legal proceedings against Pickton for attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault on Jan. 27, 1998.

Five of the six women Pickton was convicted of murdering were killed after those charges were stayed. His victims were from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and many of them were from first nations communities.

The commission is also charged with investigating episodes of missing women in other areas of the province and suspected multiple murders there.

Among those seeking status are east Vancouver's Crab Water for Life Society; former Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo, now a university professor; the Women's Equality and Security Coalition, made up of 11 groups including Vancouver Rape Relief; and the Assembly of First Nations.

A number of agencies, such as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International, quickly agreed to form coalitions, telling Oppal their concerns could be addressed together.

But others such as the Assembly of First Nations asked to be given independent standing.

Saskatchewan lawyer Donald Worme, representing the assembly, said the inquiry would cover matters of national interest and would delve into systemic racism against Canada's first nation peoples.

He said the AFN's participation would "bring some degree of confidence" to the process for those outside the province who had legitimate concerns.

Other first nation groups such as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, represented by lawyer Beverly Jacobs, also argued for independent status, saying the union was a political entity representing the interests of 98 first nations in the province.

Gwen Brodsky, representing the 11-group Women's Equality and Security Coalition, said it would be difficult to instruct counsel if any more members were added to their coalition.

Among the groups already accorded standing are the Department of Justice representing the RCMP; the City of Vancouver representing the Vancouver Police; and the Crown counsel office representing the provincial government. Lawyer Cameron Ward, representing families of eight of the missing women — three of whom Pickton was convicted of murdering — has also been granted standing.

Saturday, January 29

Changes needed in RCMP deal

Changes needed in RCMP deal

No police force will be immune from problems. The work is difficult, sometimes violent, and decisions often must be made in seconds. Some 9,000 officers are at work in British Columbia; inevitably some will behave badly.

But citizens have a right to demand two things from police -- accountability and a commitment to learn from mistakes and address problems. The RCMP has, so far, failed to meet the required standard.

The force's official response to its handling of the Robert Pickton case is disturbing. It raises serious doubts about the RCMP's willingness to change.

The Vancouver Police Department completed and released a detailed examination of what went wrong -- and what went right -- in the investigation. It set out the department's slow response to reports women were disappearing, its refusal to accept evidence that a serial killer was at work and petty internal rivalries that undermined the investigation. It highlighted the problems created by the fragmented Lower Mainland policing structure.

And the 400-page report found neighbouring RCMP detachments failed to co-operate in a joint investigation, let the file languish for months and wrongly discounted information from a key witness.

With better police work, it concluded, Pickton could have been caught years earlier. The lives of more than a dozen women could have been saved.

The RCMP refused to release its review of the investigation. But Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines obtained a heavily censored version of the 27-page report this week under access to information legislation.

Unlike the Vancouver analysis, the internal RCMP found few problems. The RCMP devoted the needed resources to the investigation, relationships with other forces were excellent and all leads were pursued. The review found nothing could have been done differently.

It's astonishing that the RCMP has not conducted a more complete review of its handling of what could be the worst serial murders in Canadian history. Pickton killed repeatedly, over years, before being caught.

The RCMP report, in suggesting nothing could have been done differently, accepts the fact that a new killer could take the same toll.

And the RCMP's failure to conduct a more diligent review betrays an unwillingness to look at its performance, draw lessons and report them publicly.

The RCMP also fails on the accountability test. The force provides policing for about 70 per cent of British Columbians, but has not accepted independent civilian oversight. It does not operate under the police complaint process that applies to municipal forces.

Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott has pledged to ensure independent civilian oversight and establish a panel to review policing in the province.

And he doesn't want the government to sign a new

20-year policing contract with the RCMP until the issues are addressed and the public inquiry into the missing-women case is to be completed.

The current RCMP contract, he says, should be extended for two years past its 2012 expiration date to allow all outstanding issues to be addressed.

Abbott's point is that it can't be just business as usual. It's a position all leadership candidates should support.

Police probe missing, high-risk people | Calgary & Alberta | News | Calgary Sun

Police probe missing, high-risk people | Calgary & Alberta | News | Calgary Sun

Last Updated: January 29, 2011 11:53am

Calgary police launched Project Resolute so when people living high-risk lifestyles go missing attempts are made to ensure nothing nefarious has happened.

Staff Sgt. Steve Burton says reviewing missing persons’ files, which involve people in inherently risky lifestyles like prostitutes and drug addicts, is prudent given the experience in Vancouver and the Robert Pickton case.

Police there later conceded, had the now-convicted serial killer been caught sooner the lives of many women might have been spared.

Instead, it took years - as a result of communication break-downs and a lack of cooperation between different police agencies — to properly investigate the disappearance of prostitutes from Vancouver’s downtown Eastside.

Pickton was eventually arrested after a 2002 search of his farm, and later convicted of second-degree murder in the death of six women whose remains were found there.

He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Many families of his victims have been critical of police for dismissing or downplaying their concerns saying it stemmed from the lifestyles their loved ones chose.

While they began turning to police in the early 1990s, concerns of foul play were dismissed.

The way those cases were handled led the B.C. attorney general to agree to a public inquiry, in a bid to ensure the women’s deaths were not in vain.

Project Resolute is inspired by lessons learned in that case with the hope that careful reviews of files will determine if anything criminal has happened in the cases of people leading high-risk lifestyles who go missing.

“It’s an evaluation to determine if there is any potential of foul play or linkages to other disappearances,” Burton said.

“A victim is a victim - it’s the right thing to do.”

Thursday, January 27

Demands for Oppal’s removal from panel grow louder - The Globe and Mail

Demands for Oppal’s removal from panel grow louder - The Globe and Mail

Sister still waiting for answers

Sister still waiting for answers

A local woman, who believes her sister was killed on Robert Pickton’s farm, received a confidence boost about the case on Monday.

Sandra Gagnon said she has found so much support for her and her missing sister on the Internet, specifically Facebook.

Photograph by: Amy Judd, TIMES

Sandra Gagnon has spent almost 14 years waiting for news of her sister Janet Gail Henry’s disappearance, and she is prepared to wait for as long as it takes.

She received an at-home visit from the Missing Women’s Task Force on Monday, the first time they have ever visited her residence. And, although they had no significant developments to share with her, Gagnon said they gave her more confidence.

Henry’s sister has been told the task force will be going back over all the older evidence again, with a different perspective and a fine-tooth comb.

“They were really encouraging,” Gagnon told The TIMES.

Life has moved on for both Gagnon and her family, including Janet’s daughter, Debra.

And despite such devastating personal loss, Gagnon said she is doing a lot better now.

“I work now and I went to counselling about everything that happened to my missing sister,” she explained.

She also has a grandson she calls “the light of my life,” and is so proud of Janet’s daughter, who is now married with a criminology diploma.

“She’s beautiful like her mom was,” said Gagnon.

Tuesday, January 25

RCMP report finds few problems with Pickton investigation

RCMP report finds few problems with Pickton investigation

Serial killer Robert Pickton.

Photograph by: Bctv News, AFP, Getty Images File, Postmedia News

The RCMP's internal review of the Robert Pickton serial killer case concluded that the officers involved in the investigation would change little if they had to do things over again, according to a copy of the 2002 report obtained by the Times Colonist.

The findings of the 27-page report stand in stark contrast to the Vancouver police department's 408-page review, which said that a Coquitlam RCMP-led investigation could have caught Pickton years earlier and prevented the deaths of more than a dozen women.

The RCMP review, which was done to prepare for lawsuits filed by the women's families, found few problems with the Pickton investigation.

The report states that the RCMP devoted adequate resources to the case, that working relationships with other police agencies were excellent, and that the force attempted to exhaust all investigative avenues.

"Based on our experience and from the interviews conducted, it is suffice to say nothing would have changed dramatically if those involved had to do it over again," states the report, which is backed by several hundred pages of transcribed interviews.

The review was conducted by two outside RCMP major crime officers from Alberta, Insp. Bob Williams and Staff Sgt. Kevin Simmill.

A heavily censored copy of their report was released to the Times Colonist this week under the federal Access to Information Act.

The review does acknowledge delays in pursuing Pickton due to other high-profile investigations. But the main finding is that the RCMP did the best they could with what they had.

"It is easy to sit back and examine the Pickton file in hindsight," the reviewers say. "It would be remiss if the review team did not comment on the fact that all members involved were dedicated and diligent in carrying out a proper investigation based on the information at hand."

But the Vancouver police review, which was released last August, said the "information at hand" in the fall of 1999 was so compelling that it warranted an aggressive investigation. Instead, jurisdictional issues, poor management and shoddy analysis of the evidence derailed the probe and allowed Pickton to go on killing for another 2 1/2 years, the report said.

From August 1999 to Pickton's arrest in February 2002, 14 women vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and their DNA would later be found at Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam. Pickton was eventually convicted of murdering six women and sentenced to life in prison.

Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard, who wrote his department's internal review, said the case was essentially sidetracked by the transfer of a senior RCMP investigator, as well as by a dispute over the credibility of an informant. Far more could have and should have been done, yet Coquitlam RCMP let the file languish for months at a time, LePard said.

The release of LePard's report prompted the B.C. government to order a public inquiry headed by former judge and attorney general Wally Oppal.

The Vancouver police declined comment Tuesday. RCMP spokesman Insp. Tim Shields said the RCMP review is not the force's official position.

"That was the opinion of the officers who were interviewed," he said. "Those same officers are going to be called during the upcoming Oppal Inquiry, and they will have to respond as to why they said that."

Shields said the RCMP itself does not have an official position on the case. "We're going to have to see what comes out at the inquiry."

Asked about the differences between the two reviews, Shields said VPD report had the benefit of "additional hindsight" because LePard took longer to do his. The RCMP review done in three weeks in 2002, he said.

The discrepancy between the Vancouver police and RCMP internal reviews is an ongoing source of friction between the two agencies, according to recently released emails.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass noted the differences in a message to LePard last August.

"Your in-depth analysis certainly shows that this did not get the attention it should have but we are having a difficult time . . . ascribing this to any person involved at the time," Bass wrote. "As they say hindsight is indeed 20/20."

Bass wrote that he asked staff for an opinion of the RCMP review "which is of course different from views put forth in your report."

In an email reply, LePard thanked Bass for acknowledging that the Pickton investigation did not receive enough attention "based on the information available (but not understood) at the time."

"Really, that's all we have been looking for," he said.

In his email reply, LePard said it was never his intention to ascribe the blame to a particular person. "There is no need to blame any individual for systemic failings."

CTV British Columbia - Pickton evaded busy RCMP officers: report - CTV News

CTV British Columbia - Pickton evaded busy RCMP officers: report - CTV News

By: Jon Woodward,

Date: Tuesday Jan. 25, 2011 6:54 PM PT

Coquitlam RCMP had their hands full dealing with a rash of homicides and sex crimes in the late 1990s -- one reason why convicted serial killer Robert Pickton was able to get away with his crimes for so long, according to an internal RCMP report obtained by CTV News.

Those crimes overwhelmed the detachment's 12-member major crimes team, which was also facing a staff shortage because many members were doing double duty, while other investigators doubted whether a crime had even occurred, the report says.

"While working sporadically on the file, numerous other high priority investigations, including a rash of homicides in Coquitlam Detachment jurisdiction took precedence," wrote Insp. R. J. Williams of Alberta's K Division RCMP.

But Williams could find no fault with officers on the ground in his conclusion, which was based on numerous interviews with officers stationed in Coquitlam between 1997 and 2002.

"Based on our experience and the interviews conducted, it is suffice to say nothing would have changed dramatically if those involved had to do it again," he wrote.

The 275-page, heavily redacted report was authored by RCMP from K Division in Alberta in response to "current and anticipated civil litigation," including lawsuits from the family of missing women Marcella Crieson and Andrea Joesbury. It was obtained by CTV News through an access to information request.

That's in contrast to a similar report by the Vancouver Police Department, which was released in its entirety to media and accepted that had investigators operated differently, lives could have been saved.

"No one wanted to let a killer escape," Deputy Chief Doug LePard said at an August press conference. "Everybody was doing their best, but when you don't have the right information, the right people aren't talking to each other, then mistakes happen, opportunities are lost."

Insp. Tim Shields of E-Division told CTV News Tuesday that the report isn't the final word on the matter.

"That report was created in 2002," he said. "We now have an upcoming public inquiry, and we believe that this independent inquiry is the best way for the organization to refine our tactics against major crimes."

Pickton is serving a life sentence in federal prison after being convicted on six counts of second-degree murder. He was also charged with 21 other counts, but prosecutors stayed those charges after the conviction.

Much of that evidence was gleaned during a major file review by a joint task force of E-Division RCMP and the Vancouver Police, which started after 2001.

But what hasn't been reviewed directly is the conduct of the RCMP in Coquitlam, the jurisdiction where Pickton lured, killed, butchered and eventually disposed of the bodies of as many as 49 women.

The redacted review makes little mention of an attempted murder charge against Pickton in 1997 of a prostitute who testified she escaped from Pickton's Port Coquitlam property.

Officers say they were first made aware of the case by a call from the Vancouver Police Department in "about 1997" to co-ordinate an investigation into some 23 missing women identified by the municipal police force.

But officers were having trouble keeping pace, said Earl Moulton, who was Chief Superintendent of the force at that time.

"There was a constant stream of sexual assaults, both historic and fresh, some murders around that time frame in terms of the Karaoke Murder, the E Lobster murder, the domestic violence murder on the hill with the three dead," Moulton said.

Moulton said he moved as many resources as he could into Pickton.

Some of the other crimes referred to in the report include a triple murder in 1999, where the bodies of an elderly couple and a young woman were found. The report says the "Karaoke murder" involved six culprits and one victim.

Another investigating officer, Sgt. Mike Connor, said that of the 12 members of the major crimes detachment, there were only 9 available, and three of those were gone on an investigation called "E-Lobster."

"This left six which throughout the summer you know you're only dealing with people on holidays and away and can't get them back," said Connor. "So probably at best we were only dealing with four or five members from our Major Crime Unit here. Far short of…far short of what was needed."

Staff Sergeant Brad Zalys, who was the serious crime sergeant at the time, said officers were torn between Pickton and other investigations.

"It was one of those ones that yeah, you were supposed to work on it, but every time the guys would try to get together and do something on it, something else would come in and I would go and see Earl (Moulton) and say what would you like us to do with this, do you want us to continue on with that or you want us to do this one and he'd say no, we have to do this one now, that's the priority," he said.

Zalys also said there was some skepticism that there was even a case to be made among officers.

"There was…a strong opinion from some of the members… that it was all bogus and there was nothing to it," he said. "The fact that there's no bodies were ever turning up from the women missing out of Vancouver that, gee … that created doubt in people's minds and that maybe there's someone else responsible."

Monday, January 24

Families of Pickton’s victims wait for answers from inquiry -

Families of Pickton’s victims wait for answers from inquiry -
Published On Mon Jan 24 2011
Matilda with daughter pic

By Petti FongWestern Bureau

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.—Matilda Wilson still cries almost every day and has nightmares most nights over the death of her daughter Ramona.

Ramona, 16, was missing for 10 months until an anonymous phone call to police in April 1995 told investigators to look for her body behind the Smithers, B.C., airport. The caller has never been identified, no killer has ever been caught.

Still, Wilson believes that she is more fortunate than many others that she has come to know over the last 16 years.

“I’ve lost a child and there’s hardly a day when I don’t cry but I’m lucky,” said Wilson. “So many other parents, mothers and sisters out there never know what happened to their loved ones. Their murdered daughters or sisters have just vanished into thin air.”

The Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry was ordered by the B.C. government after public concerns were raised over the police investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton, who was convicted in 2007 on six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Families of missing women and victims of Pickton have long believed that police acted too little, too late; in some cases, especially among missing women from northern communities, some relatives have stated that racism have played a factor in investigations.

The inquiry held a forum in Prince George Friday in the heart of what has been called the Highway of Tears, a stretch of more than 700 kms of highway that runs through the northern communities.

Over the last four decades, at least 18 women — many of them native — have gone missing or been murdered along the highway.

“The question needs to be asked about what role did ethnicity and gender play to finally have this commission struck up,” said Preston Guno, a youth advocate for the Aboriginal Youth Network. “Why did it take so many missing and murdered women before anything happened?”

Guno and many others in northern communities want a separate inquiry held to deal specifically with the missing women in northern communities.

Chief Jackie Thomas with the Saik’uz First Nation said the inquiry’s mandate of looking at police investigations between 1997 and 2002 is too narrow.

“We have decades and decades of issues,” said Thomas. “Like many others, I don’t have confidence in the RCMP.” The inquiry’s commissioner, Wally Oppal, a former Court of Appeal judge and a former attorney general in B.C., said he understands the emotions and anger in the community.

“These people have lost loved ones. If you lose a daughter and nothing’s been done, maybe you have reason to be angry,” Oppal said. “Someone out there knows what happened to these women.”

The final report is due by the end of 2011.

Sunday, January 23

DiManno: Skepticism and anger surround Pickton Inquiry -

DiManno: Skepticism and anger surround Pickton Inquiry -

By Rosie DiManno

VICTORIA—There is so much that went wrong, so much to rue, so much blame that could be apportioned in the unexamined sex killing spree by Robert (Willie) Pickton.

Police botched it. Civic officials, for the most part, disregarded it. Sex trade workers in the Downtown Eastside ignored — or were forced by circumstances to defy — the threat to their lives, a menace they recognized long before anyone else began paying attention.

We all have to take some responsibility for our own lives, prostitutes and drug addicts too. It can’t be completely the fault of others.

But the systemic failures and cultural biases, the investigative shortcomings and judicial slackness were all profound contributors to serial murder — the disregarded disappearance of women — that continued unabated for years, right under the nose of police.

And pig-farmer Pickton was no genius killer. He was a clod who lured and ambushed the most vulnerable amongst us, aware these destitutes wouldn’t be missed — at least not by anybody that counted.

How any public inquiry could even begin to autopsy what went so tragically slipshod in the police investigation of missing women in the Downtown Eastside — scores of them — is quite beyond foretelling. The sheer scope of areas that merit probing is daunting and the potential for becoming too broad, thereby diluting the most significant issues of scrutiny, hovers over this undertaking — if all pleas for inclusion are heeded.

That’s the first challenge for the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry, known more familiarly as the Pickton Inquiry, which this past week held two public forums — pre-hearing conferences in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Prince George in northern British Columbia — with the purpose of both hearing community concerns and drafting a direction for the post-conviction probe.

Already, the inquiry — long-resisted by the B.C. government, through years of commemorative marches, candlelit vigils, demonstrations and rallies — has been condemned by aboriginal leaders and social activists. Formulation was announced last August, under the public inquiry act, but terms of reference were not laid out. Attorney-General Mike de Jong later appointed former Liberal cabinet minister Wally Oppal — himself a former A-G — as its commissioner.

Oppal’s selection to lead the commission was criticized. He’s seen in many quarters as too close to government, too close to the Crown’s office that will come under audit as well for its pivotal decisions: staying attempted murder charges against Pickton in 1998, concluding that the sex worker victim would not make a credible witness in court (14 more women went missing between ’98 and Pickton’s eventual arrest as a serial killer in 2002); squashing a second trial for Pickton on 20 other murder charges after he’d been convicted of killing six women, a ruling that infuriated many victims’ families who knew the DNA of their loved ones had been found on the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam.

During interrogation, Pickton implied he’d killed 49 women. He’s serving a life sentence — no parole eligibility for 25 years — the maximum prison term available in Canada, and all appeals exhausted.

Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, who began issuing alarms about missing women from the Downtown Eastside as far back at the ’80s, was among those who spoke at the neighbourhood meeting last week.

“I began by saying I hate that I’m thinking this process will result in nothing changing,’’ Davies told the Star in a weekend interview. “Will the recommendation just sit on a shelf gathering dust? Or will it send real shock waves, with built-in mechanisms for follow-up and accountability?’’

Davies argues it’s the responsibility of both civil society and officialdom — cops, politicians — to examine all agencies and attitudes that were complicit in the failure to care about the fate of these women, in the sluggish response to their vanishing, and the ruinous original view that they were just drug-addled transients, so never really missing at all.

“Law enforcement, equality, racism, the judicial system,’’ says Davies, ticking off the areas of most urgent concern. “It’s totally woven together in attitudes and perspective. Can (Oppal) produce a report that exposes those underlying issues? And then the even tougher part follows: Will there be a commitment to work on those issues?

“From the very beginning, these women were treated like second class citizens, considered to be disposable people. That’s the real heart of the matter.’’

Calls for the independent commission had increased since Vancouver Police Department Deputy Chief Doug LePard released a 408-page review of the Pickton case late last summer, concluding that investigators had compelling evidence pointing to Pickton by August, 1999. LePard said that an independent review could lead to “significant and beneficial changes’’ to policing in the whole province.

Vancouver police last year apologized for their failure to arrest Pickton in 1997 and 1998 — which would have prevented many further deaths — blaming inadequate staffing and training, poor communication and coordination with the RCMP, for the early stage missteps.

This commission is not strictly about Pickton. That’s why Oppal took the preliminary forum tour to Prince George on Friday. Prince George is terminus of the “Highway of Tears,” which refers to a 500-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 along which at least a dozen women (perhaps upwards of 30) have been murdered (unresolved) or vanished since the late ’60s.

There’s much skepticism about the commission’s ultimate value. It won’t begin its formal hearings until late spring and Oppal must table his report by Dec. 31. Already there’s been wide disagreement over who merits standing and how to keep the inquiry focused.

What has been determined is that the inquiry will concentrate on three specific brackets within the Pickton timeline: Police investigations conducted between Jan. 23, 1997 and Feb. 5, 2002, when Pickton was arrested at his farm (doesn’t go back far enough, critics maintain); the Jan. ’98 decision by the Ministry of Attorney General’s criminal justice branch to stay charges against Pickton for the assault on a sex trade worker; how police conduct serial murder investigations in B.C.

Apart from endemic issues of poverty, drug addiction and “survival sex’’ prostitution, the missing and murdered women phenomenon in this province has a clear aboriginal subtext. At the Friday night forum, one woman related her own shocking family history of violence: Mother murdered in 1972, two sisters slain in the ’80s, two friends who died recently in the Downtown Eastside.

The dying hasn’t stopped, even with Pickton behind bars. And the rage remains just as scalding at the epicentre of his killing ground.

“There’s incredible anger that’s never been addressed, deep-seated anger,’’ says Davies.

“Addressing those feelings, truly listening to the community, has got to be a first for what I hope will be a kind of truth and reconciliation process.’’

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2010

Friday, January 21

RCMP email acknowledges Pickton investigation didn't get needed attention - Winnipeg Free Press

RCMP email acknowledges Pickton investigation didn't get needed attention - Winnipeg Free Press
By: James Keller, The Canadian Press
Posted: 01/21/2011 4:14 PM

VANCOUVER - The RCMP investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton didn't get the attention it deserved, a senior Mountie acknowledged in an email exchange with Vancouver's deputy police chief.

But in the internal emails released this week, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass rejects the suggestion that the force "failed."

The RCMP and Vancouver police have come under heavy criticism for their failure to catch Pickton as he hunted sex workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for years before he was caught in 2002. Pickton was later convicted of six counts of second-degree murder, but has been linked to the deaths of as many as 33 women.

A public inquiry beginning later this year will examine what went wrong, but both forces have already conducted internal reviews.

Vancouver police released a 400-page report last year. It admits the force made numerous mistakes but stressed it was the "RCMP’s failed pre-2002 investigation" in nearby Port Coquitlam — where Pickton's pig farm was located and where a woman accused him of attempted murder in 1997 — that allowed Pickton to continue killing for so long.

The RCMP hasn't released its own review, citing the forthcoming public inquiry, and has yet to respond directly to the criticisms levelled by Vancouver police.

But in the internal emails released this week by the Vancouver police, Bass acknowledges the Mounties made mistakes. The emails, between Bass and Vancouver's Deputy Chief Doug LePard, were made public in response to an access-to-information request.

"Your in-depth analysis certainly shows that this did not get the attention it should have," Bass wrote LePard, the author of the Vancouver police report, on Aug. 25, 2010, a few days after Vancouver police released their report.

"But (where) we are having a difficult time is ascribing this to any person involved at the time. As they say, hindsight is 20-20."

LePard replied: "I really appreciate that you acknowledge a key finding of my review. ... Really, that's all we have been looking for."

The report was highly critical of both police forces, but stressed that Pickton would have been caught sooner had it not been for a series of failures within the Coquitlam RCMP detachment.

In particular, the report said RCMP investigators were slow to act when, in 1998 and 1999, Vancouver police forwarded information that suggested Pickton was responsible for the disappearance of sex workers from the Downtown Eastside.

After the RCMP took over the investigation in 1999, it said there was a period when it lay dormant for months.

The report also said public tips to Vancouver police that were forwarded to the RCMP were ignored, and inexperienced RCMP investigators botched an interview with Pickton in January 2000, turning down an offer to search his farm.

RCMP declined comment Friday.

In his email, Bass doesn't get into the specifics, but does take issue with its characterization of the RCMP.

"I suspect that at the end of the day, where we may still have a gap (is) in the interpretation of the Pickton investigation in terms of whether it either 'failed' or was delayed too long," he wrote.

In 2001, the two forces created a joint task force named Operation Evenhanded to investigate cases of missing women throughout the Lower Mainland, including cases that were linked to Pickton and others that weren't.

LePard made clear in his email that he isn't criticizing that joint task force, but rather the work of Coquitlam RCMP in the years before it was formed.

The forces also appear to disagree over what exactly the RCMP's role was in the late '90s as Pickton emerged as a suspect.

"The current view is that Pickton was a good suspect, among many others," wrote Bass.

LePard took issue with that.

"Just for the record ... Coquitlam (RCMP) wasn't looking at any other suspects at all because their assignment was to investigate the information from various informants, etc., pointing at Pickton for a murder in Coquitlam."

Pickton is currently serving a life sentence in prison for his six murder convictions. Last year the Supreme Court of Canada rejected his appeal for a new trial.

He was originally charged with 26 counts of murder and was expected to face two separate trials. After his convictions were upheld, Crown prosecutors decided not to proceed on the outstanding charges because he is already serving the maximum sentence.

The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on Pickton's farm, and he bragged to police after his arrest that he killed a total of 49.

Thursday, January 20

Brother of victim defends artist’s portraits of murdered women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside at mediaINDIGENA

Brother of victim defends artist’s portraits of murdered women on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside at mediaINDIGENA

Dawn Crey

Not long after complaints to UBC’s Museum of Anthropology compelled it to cancel a series of portraits of missing and murdered women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a family member of one of the victims has spoken out in defense of the exhibition.

In a recent article in the Georgia Straight, Ernie Crey — brother of Dawn Crey, whose DNA was discovered on serial-killer Robert Pickton’s pigfarm in 2004 — felt the Museum made “the wrong decision,” adding that “this issue needs to be talked about, reflected on, all across British Columbian society,” notwithstanding the additional stress it might cause the victims’ families to have the exhibit take place.

Advocates doubtful of B.C. missing women's inquiry - CTV News

Advocates doubtful of B.C. missing women's inquiry - CTV News

The Canadian Press

Date: Thursday Jan. 20, 2011 6:21 AM ET

VANCOUVER — Women in the sex trade have died around Bernie Williams as long as she can remember.

Her mother was murdered in 1977, her two older sisters were slain in the early 1980s. She remembers a close female relative vanishing as far back as the 1960s. Only nights ago, two more women she knew died.

With a strong, yet pained voice, Williams relayed her losses one after another Wednesday night to Wally Oppal, a former British Columbia attorney general and judge. Oppal is heading a public inquiry into the scores of women who were murdered and went missing in the province over the years around the turn of the millennium.

Williams isn't convinced it will do any good.

"We know it's not only about Pickton -- there's many Picktons that are out there," she told Oppal and more than 100 people who'd gathered in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the impoverished area from where scores of sex trade workers have disappeared over the past several decades, a portion known to have died at the hands of serial killer Robert Pickton.

"I don't trust this whole commission, I don't trust it," she said, as many in the crowd clapped their support.

Oppal held the forum as his first introduction of the Missing Women Commission to the Vancouver community most deeply wounded by violence against sex trade workers. He told those sitting in a large circular formation he was tasked by the province to look into the circumstances of the early police investigations into the missing women, why Pickton wasn't arrested earlier and whether policing changes can be made to prevent future murders.

The inquiry was called last fall after all appeals in Pickton's case were exhausted. He's now serving life in prison for the murder of six women.

Oppal said his mandate covers the years between 1997 and 2002, the period that ended with Pickton's arrest at his Port Coquitlam pig farm.

"Our purpose in coming here today is to engage with you," he said. "It is important that we hear from participants in the community, we want to hear from them, we want to know what went wrong and how we can prevent these wrongs from taking place in the future."

But like Williams, many of the 14 groups of people who stood to express their views argued the inquiry's scope is too limited.

Sue Davis, an active sex trade worker for the past 25 years and industry advocate, said she came face-to-face with Pickton in 1990 and tried to report three times that she'd been sexually assaulted and robbed at knifepoint.

"Nobody came and nobody took my report," she said. "These are only a few of the examples why the timeline should be expanded."

Davis told Oppal that probing only a five-year period won't allow the inquiry to recognize systemic biases that make women easy targets. Research indicates there was no recorded murders of sex trade workers prior to 1970, she noted.

Similar skepticism flowed from the other speakers, including Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, who's been involved in the issue as far back as the 1980s.

"What faith do I have that this inquiry will result in any change -- real change?" she asked, urging Oppal to include built-in mechanisms in his final report that will ensure his recommendations are actively followed up.

"We must compel you to issue a report that is, so to speak, bullet-proof, hard-hitting and will cause shockwaves as to what went wrong and why. Nothing less will do."

Other speakers at the forum included Vancouver city councillor Ellen Woodsworth, victims' rights lawyer Cameron Ward on behalf of several families, and Gladys Radek, who joined Williams from Walk 4 Justice. The advocates also raised concerns about the inadequacy of current prostitution laws and the failures of the law and public policy.

Williams stressed her hope Oppal will take a critical look at the initial missing women's task force, the joint RCMP-Vancouver Police Department that was created when authorities first decided there was a problem.

"I believe you will find all your answers there," she said. "It will fall like one big domino. Why did it take 69 (missing B.C.) women and over almost 4,000 women nationally (to begin)?"

A second forum will be held on Friday in Prince George, where greater emphasis will be placed on women who have vanished along the so-called Highway of Tears in northern B.C.

Oppal told those gathered that while he wants to hear the impact of the tragedies on their lives, the submissions would be used informally to help the commission create focus, rather than be included in his final report.

Oppal said he hopes the commission's formal inquiry will begin in June. He must deliver his final report by Dec. 31.