BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUNMARCH 28, 2011 2:02 PM
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.
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