Sunday, December 30

Parents of murdered, missing children to get federal income help


Sharon Rosenfeldt's speaks to media after serial killer Clifford Olson was denied parole in November 2010 at the Regional Reception Centre in St. Anne des Plaines Quebec. Rosenfeldt's son Dayrn, was one of Olson's victims.

Photograph by: Bryanna Bradley, Postmedia News Files

OTTAWA — The mother of a boy killed by Clifford Olson praised the Conservative government Sunday for announcing new income support for parents who take time off work when their children are murdered or go missing.

Under the new federal program, the parents of children under the age of 18 who die or disappear as the result of a probable criminal offence will get up to $350 per week for up to 35 weeks as long as the applicant earned $6,500 in the previous calendar year or the previous 52 weeks and take leave from their job.

The money would have helped Sharon Rosenfeldt and her husband, Gary. Their son Daryn was missing for a month in the spring of 1981 before his body was located in Coquitlam, B.C. The 16 year old was the notorious killer Olson’s third victim in a series of murders that would eventually include two children and nine youths.

Neither Rosenfeldt nor her husband worked during those dreadful weeks as they were busy distributing pictures of their son and contacting the media for help.

The discovery of his body plunged the family into totally new traumatic terrain at a time when there were no services or supports to help families facing such tragedies.

“We were thrown into a justice system we didn’t understand,” Rosenfeldt said.

The family later moved to Ottawa after founding Victims of Violence, a charity that supports victims and families of violent crime and pressures government to introduce tougher legislation to protect people.

The decades since her son Daryn’s death have brought much progress for victims of crime and the latest announcement — made at the charity’s Centrepointe Drive office — marks another step forward, Rosenfeldt said.

“It’s very heartwarming for me. Each time there’s a step forward in assistance for victims of crime, it is very emotionally healing for me.”

In addition to the income support, the government has also amended the Canada Labour Code to allow for unpaid leave and to protect the jobs of parents whose child is murdered or goes missing.

Kellie Leitch, MP for Simcoe-Grey and the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and the Minister of Labour, called the announcement “an important milestone for the Conservative government.”

Leitch said the holidays can be a difficult time for many people, but this time of year also brings out great compassion on the part of Canadians who give to foodbanks or help an elderly neighbour by shovelling their driveway.

It’s in that spirit that the government will begin to provide this new income support as of Jan. 1, she said. “I genuinely wish this announcement didn’t have to be made.”

The initiative, first announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in April, will cost the government $10 million annually, Leitch said.

The grant is not retroactive, meaning for instance the parents of missing Quebec girls Shannon Alexander and Maisy Odjick are not eligible. The two teenagers were last seen in Maniwaki on Sept. 5, 2008.

The parents of Tori Stafford, whose high profile disappearance and brutal murder captivated the public’s attention in 2009, are also ineligible.

Leitch said she knows the measures can’t reduce the pain of a parent who loses a child, but hopes the assistance will reduce some of the financial burden that often comes with it.

“Losing a child is a deeply traumatic experience and many parents need time away from work to cope and to recover,” she said.

Many parents take time off work to cope with the trauma, take care of other children or to actively search for their missing child, and the loss of income only adds to the pressure.

“Mortgage payments continue, car payments continue, the daily necessity of expenses continue so it would really alleviate a lot of that extra financial pressure that we don’t need so we can just focus on ourselves and our families,” said Yvonne Campbell.

Her daughter Chrissy Predham, who grew up in Ottawa, was murdered in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 2007. The case went to trial in November 2012 and ended in an acquittal, which is now under appeal.

More than 1,100 children go missing for more than a week every year in Canada, while more than 100 are murdered.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, December 27

Globe readers share their views on the final recommendations of B.C.'s missing women inquiry

The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Dec. 27 2012, 9:42 PM EST

final recommendations poll

Public supports compensation for B.C. missing women's children: poll

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Dec. 27 2012

A majority of British Columbians surveyed in a newly released poll support the idea of compensation for the children of missing women involved in the case of serial killer Robert Pickton.

The Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found 58 per cent support for compensation – one of 63 recommendations made by Wally Oppal, head of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, in his Dec. 17 report. The online survey of 806 adults found 33 per cent disagreed with the idea, and 10 per cent not sure.

More Related to this Story



Video: Missing persons 'revamped' since Pickton case: Vancouver police

Photographs of missing women are displayed as commissioner Wally Oppal speaks at a public forum for the missing women’s inquiry in Vancouver on Jan. 19, 2011. Photographs of missing women are displayed as commissioner Wally Oppal speaks at a public forum for the missing women’s inquiry in Vancouver on Jan. 19, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS


Video: Police bias against Pickton's victims: inquiry commissioner

RCMP said they believe a deceased Oregon inmate is responsible for at least one of the murders in British Columbia's so-called highway of tears investigation, at a news conference in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2012. RCMP said they believe a deceased Oregon inmate is responsible for at least one of the murders in British Columbia's so-called highway of tears investigation, at a news conference in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS


Video: RCMP link dead prisoner to 'highway of tears' case

“It’s a sizable proportion of the B.C. population that is looking at this this way,” said Mario Canseco, a public opinion vice president for Angus Reid.

“Many British Columbians are looking at this from the standpoint of, ‘We need to compensate these people because this isn’t something that just happened because of forces beyond our control.’ It really provides an opportunity to say, ‘We’re sorry for what happened.’ ”

Mr. Oppal has largely left it to the B.C. government to work through the issues of compensation, but said in an interview last week that his proposal was aimed at helping children “further their career enhancement and matters of that sort.”

He suggested the children need to have the same financial footing they would have had if their mothers had lived to support them.

The former B.C. attorney-general acknowledged some families have already received various forms of provincial compensation worth $1.44-million – but said it wasn’t enough. Mr. Pickton was convicted in 2007 for killing six women and sentenced to life imprisonment. The remains of 33 women were found on his farm.

Support is lower for a “healing fund” for the families of missing women proposed by Mr. Oppal, with 50 per cent agreement. Thirty-eight per cent were opposed and 10 per cent not sure.

Attorney-General Shirley Bond, speaking for the B.C. government, said in a statement last week that the government is reviewing the report to consider its response on all issues, including compensation.

Mr. Canseco said it will be challenging for the government to work through the issue ahead of an election that’s five months away. The embattled B.C. Liberals are seeking a fourth term, but running behind the opposition New Democrats in the polls. Mr. Canseco said the Liberals will be hard pressed to work through the 63 recommendations and determine which they can enact, but they will be under pressure to act.

Support was relatively high for some key recommendations: 91 per cent for improving police missing person policies and practices; 75 per cent for funding existing centres that provide emergency services to women in the sex trade so they can stay open 24 hours a day; 73 per cent for enhancing public transit to northern B.C. communities; and 68 per cent for more intensive and continuing training for police on the history and current status of aboriginal people.

Although initially surprised by some of the high levels of support for some recommendations, Mr. Canseco said the results made sense in light of poll findings that 48 per cent of respondents were “moderately closely” following the story in the media and nine per cent “very closely” following it.

Thirty per cent were “not too closely” following the story.

The survey also found 57 per cent support for a single police force to oversee the Lower Mainland. Mr. Oppal raised concerns about a lack of investigative co-ordination among police departments in working on the Pickton case. This is the fourth time since 2007 that Angus Reid has polled on the issue with support peaking at 65 per cent in 2007, and dropping since to 63 per cent in 2008, 59 per in 2011 and then the current finding.

The margin of error in the latest poll was plus or minus 3.5 per cent. The survey was conducted between Dec. 20 and 22.

© Copyright 2012 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 26

We all share blame for Pickton’s rampage

DECEMBER 24, 2012

In the summer of 2003, Vancouver police were instructed to clean up the Hastings corridor, which drove the sex and drug trade into adjacent neighbourhoods.

I was a minister with a small United Church congregation in Mount Pleasant. In response to the police action, we began to offer sanctuary to street sex workers.

For the most part, these people had been finding shelter in the back lanes, where they slept in dirty nooks and crannies hidden from public view. We let them sleep on the back porch of the church, use our washrooms and fed them breakfast and supper every day.

Soon we had regular visits from the Centre for Disease Control street nurse program, support from assorted prostitute advocacy associations and food provisions from the Salvation Army.

Over time we began to know the people seeking sanctuary. I remember their names, Shorty, Crystal, Red, Carmen (15 years old and four months pregnant) and Angie, who was from the neighbourhood and had attended our church as a child.

There is no doubt in my mind that these women were just like those found buried in Robert Pickton’s farmyard.
Wally Oppal, in his written report for the Missing Women’s Inquiry, described such persons as “vulnerable” and treated as “throwaways”.

Our daily care for these rejected people was motivated by the basic assumption expressed by Lynn Frey, the stepmother of one of the murdered and mutilated women buried in the Pickton yard: “All these women were loved by somebody.”

This assumption was not shared by neighbours of the Church. With increasing vigour, an organized campaign was mounted to drive the vulnerable women back into the invisibility of the shadowed back lanes and alleys. I was personally threatened with legal action and violence.

City Hall was pressured and the police began to make daily visits to the church.

The matter came to an unhappy conclusion when representatives of the United Church regional leadership authorized the Vancouver Police Department to drive the vulnerable women from the precincts of the church.

Their belongings were scooped up and thrown into a garbage truck, as they were
being threatened with incarceration should they return to the church.

From my perspective, the women who had found some dignity and respect with us were sent out into the vulnerability of the dark streets, where predators had easy access.

I recognize that my account gives rise to many questions, but my basic point is that women are not killed in the streets of our cities by singular aberrant persons. Murdered sex workers are the end result of a pervasive, mean-spirited attitude to the difference they represent for anxious citizens of cities troubled by poverty, addiction and crime.

We rightly shudder at the horror revealed in the Pickton case. It will not serve us well to neglect consideration of complicity, however many degrees removed, on the part of citizens, governments and, tragically, churches.



Monday, December 24

The Missing & Murdered Women of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, BC

Oppal report says Marnie Frey, others, were 'forsaken'


Campbell River's Marnie Frey would have turned 40 next August, but instead, according to Commissioner Wally Oppal, in his report on the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, she was forsaken.

Due to systemic bias within the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department, Oppal said they failed all the murdered women and their families.

Marnie, who called home to her parents in Campbell River almost every day, stopped calling on Aug.

30, 1997, her 24th birthday. Her parents reported the disappearance to police. She was not listed as a missing person until five months later.

"Forsaken" is the name of the 1,445-page report, released on Monday, following 93 days of hearings and submissions from 400 individuals impacted by the murders of at least 33 women.

In her testimony before the Missing Women Inquiry Commission, Marnie's stepmother Lynn Frey said that

she was forced to conduct her own search for Marnie when she realized the police were not looking for her daughter. After talking to many people in the downtown east side of Vancouver, including prostitutes, her investigation led her right to the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam.

She tried to scale the fence but was chased off by guard dogs. She told the Vancouver Police Department about her findings. "They just didn't give a damn," she told the Commission.

"They did not receive equal treatment from police and as a group they were dismissed," according to Oppal, who blamed both the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department for ignoring and discounting reports and subsequently not investigating sooner and possibly sparing lives, including Marnie's.

His 63 recommendations include funding a 24-hour emergency services centre for sex workers, creation of a single regional police force for the Greater Vancouver area, improve missing persons policies and implementing measures to help prevent violence against women.

Marnie Frey's DNA was found along with the DNA of 32 other women on Robert Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam. He was originally charged with 26 counts of first degree murder, but was convicted on six counts of second degree murder, including the death of Marnie Frey, and is serving a life sentence.

In addition to holding the police to account, Oppal also blamed inadequate housing, food insecurity, health issues, inadequate access to health care, extreme poverty and drug dependence, and distrust of police for contributing to the women's vulnerability to violence.

In his victim impact statement, Marine's father Rick Frey said, "It was not just Marnie's death that affected us so strongly. Our emotional anguish was made even worse by having to deal with issues around the police investigation.

"We were troubled by so much of the focus being on (Pickton) rather than on Marnie herself and her family.

"We felt ignored and brushed aside because people just saw her as a drug addict and prostitute, not a mother and a daughter."

When Marnie went missing, she left a five-year-old daughter who was adopted by Rick and Lynn after Marnie's murder.

"Our family will forever be tormented by visions of what happened to our loved one," her dad said. "Our daughter and mother Marnie, who was just an innocent woman caught in the wrong place and time"

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Saturday, December 22

Repost - Forsaken again: the MWCI was a failed opportunity for truth and reconciliation

Forsaken again: the MWCI was a failed opportunity for truth and reconciliation

December 19, 2012 in Missing Women Commision of Inquiry, Opinion

Families and supporters of the missing women at Monday's press conference (Photo by Carmine Marinelli/24 Hours)

Monday’s press conference for the release of the Commissioner’s final report confirmed the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was a failed opportunity to ameliorate relationships between the victims’ families, community groups, police departments and the Provincial Government. The Commissioner was hardly through his introductory remarks when heckling from the public gallery began. Outside the press conference, dozens protested and distributed leaflets calling for a national inquiry into the ongoing crisis of murdered and missing women, suggesting little has changed since the Inquiry was first called.

The final report is lengthy—bound in 6 volumes including a 150-page executive summary—but its size belies its fatal flaw: the foundation of the report is incomplete. Early funding decisions by the Provincial Government effectively excluded most community groups from the evidentiary hearings. During those hearings, the Commission refused to hear from important witnesses and refused to compel relevant records that were essential to its fact-finding mandate. Independent counsel for aboriginal interests, Robyn Gervais, resigned from her position in protest. Decisions made by the Commission respecting the design and conduct of this public inquiry critically wounded its perceived integrity. The Commission failed to complete its important work.

That said, we have done a preliminary review of the final report and provide these initial comments. Further comments may follow once we have had more time to consider the Commissioner’s many findings and recommendations.

The report includes a thorough review of the evidentiary record, albeit incomplete, and a satisfactory recitation of “what happened” in the course of the impugned missing women investigations. Police failure after police failure is described in detail: poor report taking and follow up on reports of missing women; faulty risk analysis and risk assessments; inadequate proactive strategies to prevent further harm; failures to consider all investigative strategies; failures to follow Major Case Management practices; failures to address cross-jurisdictional issues and ineffective coordination between police forces and agencies; and failures of internal and external accountability mechanisms. The respective police departments ought to be humbled by these findings.

One area where the report falls short, however, is in explaining “why” these failures occurred. Of the report’s 1448 pages, only 65 are dedicated to the “Underlying Causes of the Critical Police Failures” – the title of Part 4, Volume II. More importantly, the Commissioner fails to find direct or overt discrimination played a role in the failed missing women investigations, and refuses to attribute blame for the failed investigations to any specific individuals, or even the police departments themselves. For the families, this was a missed opportunity for truth and reconciliation.

The answers to the “why” question are critical because they are necessary to lay the foundation for recommendations for change. Without a proper understanding of why the missing women investigations failed, police and governments will not be able to prevent another similar tragedy from occurring. In the Commissioner’s own words:

“There is great public utility in addressing allegations that bias, sexism and racism had some role in the police failures: a more profound and complete understanding of the past creates the foundation for learning, which leads to positive change in the future.”

Indeed, the Commissioner has acknowledged to some degree that bias, sexism and racism were to blame for the “colossal failure” of the missing women investigations. The public gallery on Monday gave a singular cheer at the Commissioner’s pronouncement that “systemic bias” contributed to this failure. For our clients, this finding is merely confirmation of something they have long known: police prejudices involving aboriginal women, sex trade workers and drug users affected decisions at every stage of the missing women investigations. There is no doubt these investigations would have been conducted differently had the women been reported missing from another, more privileged neighbourhood.

The Commissioner is, however, quick to qualify his finding of “systemic bias” in the final report:

“The systemic bias operating in the missing women investigations was a manifestation of the broader patterns of systemic discrimination within Canadian society and was reinforced by the political and public indifference to the plight of marginalized female victims.”

In effect, the Commissioner deflects blame away from the police and onto society at large. The bias was not “institutional”, it was “systemic”, as the police departments mirrored the prejudices of society at large, says the report. The Commissioner adopts a phrase from Sir Robert Peel: “the police are the public and the public are the police”, and goes on to say “[t]he police failures in this case mirror the general public and political indifference to the missing women. [...] At some level, we all share the responsibility for the unchecked tragedy of the failed missing women investigations.”

The families find this hard to swallow. Surely their desperate pleas to police for help finding their missing daughters, sisters and mothers were not indifferent? Surely the women and men marching in the streets demanding action were not indifferent? And shouldn’t the police be held to a higher standard than the general public? How can the indifference shown by police be justified as being a reflection of public opinion?

In our view, the numerous police failures found by the Commissioner in his final report are better characterized as manifestations of institutional and individual police biases. Police policies, practices, and culture were to blame for these failures, not society at large. Individual officers made critical decisions not to follow up on tips, not to allocate resources, and not to warn the public. The Commissioner’s hesitation to attribute fault was a missed opportunity, and weakens the foundation for the recommendations that follow.

The families applaud the Commissioner’s recommendations for increased funding to centres providing emergency services to women, restorative measures, equality-promoting measures, measures to enhance the safety of vulnerable urban women, and measures to prevent violence against aboriginal and rural women, among the many other recommendations outlined in Volume III the report. It remains to be seen, however, whether the foundation of this report has the structural integrity to support any significant improvements to the lives of disadvantaged women.

posted by Neil Chantler

Missing-women inquiry the ‘hardest thing’ an exhausted Oppal’s ever done


Globe and Mail

Dec 22, 2012.

Even a lifetime in the courtroom, as both a prosecutor and a judge, followed up by a stint in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, couldn’t prepare Wally Oppal for his job as the head of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

“It was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done,” Mr. Oppal said Friday, his voice sounding weary four days after the release of his report. “I honestly had no idea it was going to be like this. It really took a physical and emotional toll on me. It really did.”

It’s hard to believe it wouldn’t. Mr. Oppal is no longer the spry young government lawyer who made a name for himself prosecuting some of the most high-profile cases in the province. He is 72 and, though he is as mentally alert as ever, the long hours and unrelenting focus that the inquiry demanded left him exhausted.

And then there was the battering his name took as groups with agendas of various sorts tried to get him fired. Some of the headlines were of his own doing. He’ll admit that. Like when he phoned then-attorney-general Barry Penner to complain about the lack of funding some groups that wanted before his inquiry were getting. While his heart may have been in the right place, phoning the attorney-general wasn’t appropriate.

Others believed that Mr. Oppal was politically tainted, given his association with the Liberal government that appointed him. He was the attorney-general when the government made the decision not to prosecute Robert Pickton for 20 other murders for which he was charged. That also made him the wrong choice for the job, many felt. But through it all, even on the darkest of days when he felt there wasn’t a soul alive who supported him, he never once considered resigning. “What would that have done?” Mr. Oppal told me. “I was given this job because I was the right person to do it given my background. And I honestly believe my report supports that view. I wasn’t the attorney-general when this case was being investigated. It was wrapped up in 2002. I didn’t come into government until 2005.

“I was A-G when the trial was going on. But I had nothing to do with the investigation. I couldn’t resign under erroneous assumptions. And if I had resigned, who knows what might have happened. There might not have been an inquiry at all. “It’s difficult to imagine that would have happened. But there certainly would have been chaos had he stepped down in the middle of the process, as many wanted. It would have been a staggering setback not to mention a waste of millions of taxpayers’ dollars.

Since the report’s release, Mr. Oppal has faced scrutiny for his decision to recommend a regional police force, something he did back in 1994 when he led an inquiry on policing in B.C. It’s not so much the proposal that prompted some arched brows, but the fact he did little to move on the matter when he was in government. Mr. Oppal says now that is a valid question.

“Quite simply the government didn’t want to get into a pissing match with mayors like Lois Jackson and Dianne Watts who were quite happy with the way things are now. Gordon Campbell didn’t want to take on the cities that opposed the idea. So it was a political fight that government had no appetite for.”

This, of course, is what most suspected. But until you hear it from someone who was around the cabinet table at the time, you never know for sure.

It will take some time, Mr. Oppal admits, before he has fully recovered from the inquiry experience.

On some levels, he is a changed man. You can’t go through what he did and not have a different outlook on life. But at least he no longer wakes in the middle of the night worrying about what the next day might bring.

“I prosecuted more than 50 murder cases,” he said. “I did the last two police officer killings in the province. So I did a lot of emotional cases. Still, none of it prepared me for the graphic, raw emotions that I saw and heard in that inquiry courtroom.

“It’s quite something to have someone standing before you, crying, and asking why no one cared for her sister. Asking if it was because she was poor and aboriginal. There were days, I have to tell you, when I felt like stepping down from my chair and giving the person a hug.”

Mr. Oppal paused to reflect back on those moments. “At the end of the day, I’m a human being like everyone else. That stuff is painful to listen to. From that perspective, I’m relieved it’s all over.”

Missing women: the blood on our hands


The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Dec. 20 2012

It’s hard to spend time with Wally Oppal’s five-volume “missing women” report and not experience a range of feelings, among them sadness, anger and despair.

The disappearances of the 67 B.C. women, most of them aboriginal, that the former appeal court justice looked into can be traced back, in most instances, to lives that were stacked against them from the start.

More Related to this Story



Video: Missing persons 'revamped' since Pickton case: Vancouver police


Key dates in the Pickton case

Abuse and poverty were constants from the day they were born. Many were left to fend for themselves from a young age. Some had mental health issues. Others had alcohol and drug addictions. All were marginalized by broader society from the moment they took their first nervous, uncertain steps into an adult world that was waiting to prey on them.

The missing women’s story is one of the sorriest episodes in B.C.’s history. It’s also one of the biggest scandals in the history of policing in the province. And while Mr. Oppal, a former B.C. attorney-general, did a thorough job of dissecting the multitude of mistakes made by police in not nabbing serial murderer Robert Pickton sooner – much of the delay the result of indifference caused by racist attitudes – no one was held to account. Many officers and their superiors whose actions cost people their lives paid no price.

Why hasn’t anyone been fired? This is one of the most flagrant examples of mass dereliction of duty you’ll find. Yet, it seems that, as far as the police are concerned, a simple sorry is enough. No wonder people in the aboriginal community, including family members of the missing women, are so cynical about the process. I would be, too.

But then, why would the police act when there was no great hue and cry from the public? There’s no pressure on police brass from political leaders to discipline anyone because they aren’t under any pressure themselves from constituents.

The collective yawn that greeted the missing women report is beyond disturbing. Some television stations in Vancouver didn’t even lead their newscasts with it – they went with the weather, instead. People seem to be more irate about the $8-million that Mr. Oppal’s commission cost than the content of the report itself.

We diminish these women’s deaths because they were prostitutes and aboriginal. They put themselves in harm’s way, the thinking goes. If you stand on a street corner in a dangerous part of a big city selling your body, you can end up on a pig farm being murdered by some monster. Simple as that.

But, of course, it’s not. Many of those women did what they did because they felt they had no choice. They were poor. They were hungry. They were addicted. They had some despicable pimp threatening to kill them unless they went out and made some money for him. That’s why prostitution at this level is often called “survival sex.” These women did it to survive. Unimaginably difficult and heartbreaking circumstances put them on the street to be murdered. And a number of them were first nations women who continue to disappear at disproportionate rates from our streets every day.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has been working with the RCMP to compile statistics on missing and murdered aboriginal women. That research indicates that, between 2000 and 2008, 153 cases of murdered aboriginal women and girls represented about 10 per cent of female homicides in Canada. Aboriginal women make up less than 4 per cent of the female population in the country.

In 2010, the Native Women’s Association published a database of nearly 600 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls identified in the past 20 years. B.C., and particularly Vancouver, accounted for a third of all cases in Canada, with 160. Of that number, 63 per cent were murdered, and 24 per cent remain missing.

There are no easy solutions to this ongoing tragedy. We can continue to blame this on colonialism and the fallout from residential schools if we want, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. We all bear a share of the blame, including the federal government and the aboriginal community itself.

We must all own this problem. There’s mass murder taking place in Canada and society doesn’t seem to care. And if it’s allowed to continue, we’ll all have blood on our hands – if we don’t already.

© Copyright 2012 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 21

Jonathan Kay: Putting human faces to Downtown Eastside’s missing and murdered women

Jonathan Kay | Dec 19, 2012 9:57 AM

Andy Clark/Reuters

Andy Clark/ReutersSquamish Elder Eugene Harry blesses photos of women, who went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, prior to the start a provincial Missing Women Commission of Inquiry into their disappearance.

It might seem odd to describe a drug-addicted prostitute as a hero. But that’s what Witness 97 is.

At 11:45pm on the night of March 22, 1997, Witness 97 — or “Anderson,” as was known at trial — was hitchhiking at the corner of Cordova St and Princess Ave in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, when Robert Pickton picked her up in his truck. He offered Anderson $100 for oral sex, and took her back to his pig farm in Port Coquitlam.

Once they were inside a trailer on his property, Pickton put a handcuff on the prostitute’s left wrist. Anderson later testified that she’d already had a bad feeling about the farm — “I just know there’s [dead] broads on that property,” she remembers saying to herself. When she saw the metal on her wrist, “I went ballistic.” She knew that what happened in the next few seconds would determine if she lived or died.

Somehow, Anderson got hold of a knife she’d spotted in the trailer, and slashed at Pickton’s neck. A confused, stumbling, bloody melée followed. At one point, Pickton had Anderson in a headlock, then got the knife out of her hands and began stabbing. But he was exhausted from the fight, and his arm went limp. Anderson took the knife back from him somehow, and then ran away. Soon, she was telling her story to the police.

The Crown prosecuted Pickton for Anderson’s attempted murder — but stayed proceedings when they became convinced that the heroin-addicted woman was an unreliable witness. Pickton remained a free man for five more years, during which time as many as two dozen more women were killed by his hand. (Pickton is serving a life sentence for the murder of six women — but he claims to have killed 49.)

What a pity that Anderson did not have the strength to finish Pickton off when she had the chance. Then again, the mere fact that she’s still alive shows us she’s a stronger person, in some ways at least, than most of us.

The image of Anderson, half-cuffed, fighting off Pickton in that grubby trailer sticks in my mind after reading from Wally Oppal’s recently released report on the murder and disappearance of sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside. The fight serves as a metaphor for a group of drug-addicted prostitutes who’d hit rock bottom — yet still managed, in many cases, to wage brave and stubborn fights to rescue themselves.

The words “drug addict” bring to mind a sort of unfeeling zombie. It repels sympathy. In the case of the Downtown Eastside, one imagines an undifferentiated army of these specimens, mechanically submitting to male cruelties in order to gain a fix, like rodents banging on a feeder bar. But the profiles contained in Volume I, Part 3 of Oppal’s report show this stereotype to be untrue.

Many of the women were regulars at Vancouver’s WISH Drop-In Centre, which offers sex trade workers referrals for detox. Others participated in methadone clinics. Marnie Frey, the animal-loving daughter of a Campbell River fisherman, had tried several times to get through heroin rehab programs — before disappearing into Pikcton’s farm sometime in 1997. Tanya Holyk, another Pickton victim, left behind a “letter to my addict” she’d written during a rehab stint: “For the past few years you have f’d up and ran my life. I am not going to let you do that anymore …” Angela Jardine, a woman who was believed to have the intellectual development of an 11-year-old, was last seen, well-dressed and upbeat, attending a community event called “Out of Harm’s Way.”

Several of the aboriginal women profiled did their best to connect with their roots — including Georgina Papin of the Enoch Tree Nation, who had trained herself in traditional Cree dancing and beading. They had forged something of a civic society within their trade, and some had check-in procedures with one another — which is how their disappearance often was noted. Some managed to sustain semi-functional relationships, and even hung onto old-fashioned dreams of love and romance. Of Marlene Abigosis, the eighth child of 14 born to a Pine Creek Reserve family, her sister wrote: “She fell in love once. I met him, and he was a handsome Norwegian who came to Vancouver in a Norwegian ship. She would wait for his ship to come in so she could see him.”

A good number of the bios make it clear that the girls were marked for misery from birth: They grew up in households full of alcohol, abuse, transient sex partners, and a legacy of residential schooling. Many girls shuttled around from parents to step-parents, depending on who was in prison or on the bottle — and wound up in state care or with foster parents. Some women, such as Wendy Crawford, also had schizophrenia. Kellie Little (born Richard Little) had only one kidney, and a serious jaw deformity. Yet some of the women seemed to have had relatively happy childhoods. Heather Bottomley played shortstop and catcher on a baseball team. Tiffany Drew was a championship athlete in Port Alberni. Marnie Frey, the fisherman’s daughter, loved to hunt and go camping.

But even in these latter cases, the narratives always change in the teenage years — usually just after early adolescence. The girls rebel, get into drugs, and wind up with nasty, violent boyfriend-pimps, as well as early pregnancies. They take a variety of routes to the Downtown Eastside. But once they get there, they become surrounded with other people who’ve made similarly bad choices, and they can’t escape. In most cases, it is the events that take place in the crucial years between the ages of about 12 and 16 that set them on their deadly trajectories.

These back-stories are the fuel feeding the slow-burning, never-ending tire-fire of misery in Downtown Eastside. The laws of sex and drugs, no matter how progressively drafted and enforced, can never fully bring these people into safe, mainstream society — because their severely damaged psychology systematically drives them to enablers and clients who are exploitative and sadistic.

It’s easy to imagine that, placed in their shoes, we would somehow have the strength to drop the needle, dump the boyfriend, get on the wagon, go back to school. But that’s wrong. These are women who typically suffered devastating psychological blows in their teen years — including personal violence and close experiences with death. A majority no doubt suffered conditions that would be described clinically as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sereena Abotsway, born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, was assaulted so violently that she had to have a steel plate put in her head. As a young child, Dawn Crey of the Sto:lo First Nation witnessed her father die of a heart attack — an event that set her mother to heavy drinking. Janet Henry of the ‘Namgis First Nation had a sister who was raped and murdered at the age of 19 — and, amazingly, she herself was drugged and abducted by Clifford Olson even before disappearing for good in 1997. Tanya Holyk had two uncles who committed suicide while they were still teenagers — and an aunt who herself disappeared from the Downtown Eastside. Mona Williams was placed in emergency foster care after being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. For many of these women, getting killed by Robert Pickton would have been just the final violent event in lives already full of violent horrors that the rest of us will never have to endure.

The Oppal report contains dozens of recommendations for improving police procedures, and making amends for the oversights that led to the monster Robert Pickton being permitted five more years of slaughter. But before anyone opines on his policy prescriptions, it’s important to pay homage to the damaged souls that Pickton extinguished.

Whatever degraded status they had fallen into during their adult years, they were human beings who deserve to be remembered as more than mere “prostitutes” and “drug addicts.” If you read just one section from Mr. Oppal’s report, let it be the one in which he relates their stories, however brief — even if every one has a tragic ending.

National Post

Pete McMartin: Forsaking the forsaken in Prince George?


A sign along Haldi Road.

Photograph by: Brent Braaten

Prince George — as much as it would wish not to be — has the unfortunate distinction of being the eastern terminus of the Highway of Tears. It knows too well the stories of murdered women.

For a city its size, it also has the usual problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and prostitution. Those problems often overlap.

Last year, in hoping to address those problems, an organization called the Northern Supportive Recovery Centre Society announced plans to open a women’s addiction treatment centre in the former Haldi Road elementary school.

The school, which has been closed for about a decade, sits on a 10-acre property in a semi-rural neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city. There are about 250 families in the neighbourhood, many of them living on sizable properties.

And many of them — at least, the most vocal of them —are against the treatment centre opening there.

They cite fears of increased crime and drug use. They fear a decrease in property values. They complain that the area’s roads and the building’s sewage and water systems are not up to handling the demands of an institution of that size.

They are also angry with what they feel was the city government’s and proponent’s arbitrary handling of the issue.

“It got off to a very bad start,” said resident Jack Nylund, who lives on a six-acre property in the area. “People (in the neighbourhood) felt very strongly they were being pushed into this. It wasn’t just a matter of whether we wanted the treatment centre or not. It became a question of abuse by the city.”

“In the first meeting we had with the proponents,” said resident Janice Sevin, “we were told that (the centre) was coming whether we liked it or not.”

Residents so opposed the centre that they pooled their money and, under Sevin’s name, challenged the city’s rezoning of the school property in B.C. Supreme Court. The city had rezoned its previous rural-residential designation to accommodate the centre.

In August, the court agreed with Sevin that the rezoning was inconsistent with the city’s Official Community Plan and contrary to the Local Government Act.

The city was back to square one. It countered by moving forward with an amendment to the OCP that would see a site-specific rezoning to the property. A public hearing on the rezoning is scheduled for January. If it goes through, and the rezoning passes, the society feels it can have the centre up and running by summer.

The area residents, resigned to what they feel is a done deal, held a community meeting on Wednesday to consider separating from the city government and joining the regional district government. The district government, they feel, would be more sympathetic to their semi-rural concerns.

In effect, they want a government that will do what they tell it to do.

But governments everywhere often make decisions that anger residents immediately affected by those decisions. And those decisions are made in what the government hopes is for the common good.

We aren’t strangers to this in Vancouver. For example, in September, the Dunbar Apartments, a 51-room, four-floor facility for the homeless opened at 16th and Dunbar. Its clientele includes those with addiction and mental problems. It was the only social housing facility of its kind in the wealthy neighbourhood, and when it was first proposed by the city, it was greeted with exactly the same opposition as that in Prince George — worries about increased crime and drugs, and lowered property values.

The city, though, wanted it in Dunbar for exactly the same reason the Recovery Society wants its centre outside of downtown Prince George: to remove those in need of its services out of the milieu where their addictions and problems arose.

This is an eminently sane and humane thing to do, and the residents of Dunbar should be proud of having the facility within their midst, not fearful of it. They are doing their part in what is a citywide problem, and demonstrating that even the very wealthiest of neighbourhoods should carry some of the social welfare load.

So far, according to Robert Westendorp, vice-president of the Dunbar Residents Association, fears of drug abuse and increased crime have come to nothing. And when I last looked, I still couldn’t afford a home in Dunbar.

As for fears of the same in Prince George? Dr. Michelle Sutter, a general surgeon, is chairwoman of the board of the Recovery Society. Of residents’ fears of an increase in crime, she said:

“This is absolutely not going to happen. The property will be fenced, there will be security cameras and security personnel. We’ll operate on a strict abstinence policy. If clients lapse, there will be no second chances. If clients want to leave because they feel they can’t follow the rules, they will be given escorted transportation back into Prince George to wherever they want to go.”

Sutter could not help but see the irony in the issue coming to a head the same week Wally Oppal released his missing women’s report. Oppal said we should be doing a better job helping the forsaken, including those along the Highway of Tears: But here, Sutter said, was an organization trying to do exactly that, and being forsaken in return.

To be fair to the neighbours near the proposed treatment centre, and to be fair to Nylund and Sevin, both of whom sounded reasonable on the phone, the city probably could have done a better job of allaying their fears.

I doubt, though, that it would have ultimately changed their minds. As Nylund and Sevin both said, they weren’t against a treatment centre, or helping women in need, they just felt it should be situated in a more proper setting, such as in a remote area away from a residential area.

“It changes the nature of the community,” Nylund said. “If you’re going to have an institution put into a community, will it not change the nature of the community?”

God, I hope so.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

The Greatest Stories Ever Told!: Making Money off the Backs of a Few Dead Women.

The Greatest Stories Ever Told!: Making Money off the Backs of a Few Dead Women.:

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Victim's father finally gets questions answered

Sian Thomson

Campbell River Courier-Islander

Friday, December 21, 2012

It has been 15 years since Rick Frey last spoke to his daughter Marnie, and during that time he has asked many questions about what happened to her, why it happened, and how it could happen. On Monday he heard some answers.

Wally Oppal, Commissioner of the Missing Women's Inquiry, released his report "Forsaken" on Dec. 17 and Frey was surprised at some of the findings.

"I couldn't believe he came out so hard against the police," Frey said. "Particularly as Oppal was the Attorney General, the guy has some baggage and that is scary in itself. Before the trial got started I had sent him a bunch of emails and letters about the problems the families were having with the police, with getting answers, with being treated respectfully, and I never got an answer back."

Frey said he was happy with some of the recommendations but worries that the provincial government will either not have the will or the finances to follow through and an upcoming provincial election could further complicate things or slow things down. Also Frey said that the inquiry should have "gone national" because there were so many stakeholders involved, "a federal police force, a city police force, aboriginal people, downtown east side people."

He also questions the fairness factor.

"There were 25 families represented by two lawyers. But the police, RCMP and VPD, had a lawyer for each person who had fingers pointing to them for wrongdoing, and Eddie Greenspan out of Toronto, was representing the Vancouver Police Chief, he charges $1,200 per hour," said Frey. "How is that fair? It was not a level playing field."

Frey recalls the RCMP being very slow in getting information to the families. He said RCMP Justice Branch Representative Sharon Tobias told him that the RCMP was not bound by the families demanding information and that the RCMP would decide what was pertinent to the case and what the families would be provided.

"No wonder they didn't want to give us everything because it wasn't right," he said. "This is more than just about the missing women you know. There were 150 to 160 DNA samples taken from the farm that were unidentified and half of those were male," Frey said. "Why did they have the parameters from 1997 to 2002 but prior to that there were reports of missing people back to 1983?"

Frey recalls that when they reported Marnie missing in 1997 they thought she might be one of about two or three missing women at that time.

"We found out later that she was number 26," he said. "It was not a police error, it was criminal negligence of their duties."

Frey also fumes over the way he and his wife Lynn and the mother of another missing girl were treated during the preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial.

"There was no warning whatsoever, no one from Victims' Services prepared us, and they just blurted out 'We found a piece of Marnie Frey,'" he said. "Lynn doubled over and could barely get out of the chair. Then they said the other girl's DNA had been found in the freezer in a bag of ground meat. There was no one there for us. The victim's workers were too busy not wanting to miss what was being said. It was all more than an error."

Frey said that despite the gruesome nature of the investigation and revelations at the hearings, at least they do not have to think and wonder like a lot of families do who have not found their missing loved ones.

"And we have Brittney, Marnie's daughter who is 20 years old now. Can you believe that? She is starting to open up a little more and we have always included her in everything about her mom," said Frey. "And Brittney is a lot like Lynn. They just see a person in trouble and they want to bring them home. It's probably why I have white hair now. But this makes you a better person."

Frey says people ask him all the time how it has affected him. He said that when the news was originally breaking about Marnie's fate a close childhood friend of his came to him and he ended up comforting him instead of the other way around.

"My friend said we don't know how lucky we are," said Frey. "He said he wouldn't think about passing a homeless person on the street but now that it happened to a friend, well, it just broke him. This mentality, you are not in with the group so you are just a nobody has to stop."

Frey thinks about his daughter a lot. "She didn't want to grow up and be a drug addict and a prostitute. She didn't want to hurt us. She came home one time and tried to detox, she really tried hard. Lynn and I took turns staying up with her," he said. "We rigged pots and pans to the doors so we would know if she was trying to leave. That's what you have to do. But Marnie couldn't do it and away she went.

But she called us every day, sometimes several times a day. I used to worry about the phone bills and now I would give anything for her to call. She loved us. She loved her daughter. She loved animals and probably would have ended up working in the veterinary field."

He remembers Marnie as a child becoming distraught at the death of one of the family's chickens that were being raised in a coop behind the house. Marnie insisted on an autopsy before laying the chicken to rest in the yard.

"So I took it to the vet just to pacify her and it came back that the chicken ate a nail and some screws and had 10 or 15 cents in its gullet," he said. "It cost me $30 to do an autopsy on a chicken. But it was for my girl and everyone was happy in the end."

Frey hopes the recommendations from the Inquiry will make a difference but you have to excuse him if he seems a little jaded, he said.

"Sometimes I will be fishing up around the Alaska border all by my lonesome, look out past the still waters to the horizon, and start to reminisce about my girl and the stuff we used to do," he said. "The tears will start rolling down my face. But what can you do?"

To view the report, go to

© Campbell River Courier-Islander 2012

Northern Insight: Where does the money go?

Northern Insight: Where does the money go?:

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Thursday, December 20

Editorial: Oppal missing women report’s value in its implementation


oppal inquiry report

With the benefit of hindsight, former attorney general Wally Oppal aptly called the saga of Vancouver’s missing and murdered women a tragedy of epic proportions.

A big part of the tragedy is that many of these women would not have died if we had recognized what was happening at the time. The continuing part is that many of the conditions that set the stage for both the murders and the way they were allowed to go on for so long still exist today.

A little over two years after being appointed to head the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, Oppal has issued a massive report with scores of recommendations, including the politically problematic creation of a regional police force.

The report has already been criticized as adding little to the debate over what went wrong over a decade to allow William Pickton to continue killing marginalized women from the Downtown Eastside and make them disappear on his Maple Ridge pig farm.

It’s true that many of the details were already known from the trial, from earlier reporting in the media and several months of public testimony before the Oppal commission.

But what’s important now about the report is not whether it brings any new perspective to the story so far, but what we do with it.

To complain now that it could have been better, that the inquiry could have been more exhaustive, that more lawyers would have made a difference, misses the point. We know what many of the lessons are. The question now is whether we are willing to show that those lessons have been learned.

We will not honour the women who died with more study, more finger-pointing and more blame. We can only honour their memory now by doing what is needed to ensure that no one else goes missing from the Downtown Eastside, or if they do, that we treat it with the same alarm that we would if were someone kidnapped from a Shaughnessy mansion.

We’ve known about most of the issues detailed by Oppal for decades, not days. Some, including violence against women, drug addiction, poverty and the marginalization of the poor, are global in extent. Those involving First Nations are common across Canada.

The patchwork of policing across the Lower Mainland and the shame of the Downtown Eastside are peculiar to Vancouver.

To those politicians who promise this report will be a call to action, let’s be clear, that real change will not be cheap, easy or quick.

The idea of a regional police force has been around for some time and the lukewarm response it got again from the province and the opposition from some local mayors suggests that it doesn’t have much chance of being implemented.

The only way it would be possible is if the province were willing to impose it on the region. In the absence of the political will to do so, the provincial government still has the responsibility to insure that the local municipalities are working together smoothly enough that cracks between them, such as the one that may have allowed Pickton to keep killing so long, don’t reappear.

We are encouraged by the appointment of former Lt.-Gov. Stephen Point to keep alive the issues catalogued in Oppal’s report and monitor progress on the recommendations.

Although he has little power other than persuasion, Point has the profile and respect across social and political lines needed to ensure that the Oppal report is not just the end of a dark chapter in the history of Vancouver, but the beginning of a brighter one.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Cash influx boosts drop-in centre for sex workers


Kate Gibson needs a lot of advice.

After spending years helping to run a widely respected drop-in service for sex-trade workers on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on the thinnest of shoestrings, the executive director of WISH has been told the centre will get an extra $750,000 per year from the provincial government.

The money was announced earlier this week by Justice Minister Shirley Bond, about an hour after the commissioner of an inquiry into Vancouver's missing women made funding for an around-the-clock drop-in centre a key recommendation.

"There will be more meals at whatever time of day that we're open," said Gibson, listing off some of the changes.

"Obviously overnight there will be meals and snacks. So it will mean a substantial increase in our food budget. Obviously we don't have staff, so there will be a large ramping up of staff to cover those shifts overnight, and the facility will have to be managed in a new way because it will have a lot more use."

The drop-in centre opened in 1987 with a base in a Downtown Eastside church and moved in 2009 to its own facility. The centre began helping just a few women a night, but that has grown to between 50 to 200 women every night.

In May, commissioner Wally Oppal told the inquiry a 24-hour centre for sex-trade workers was a "no brainer."

Dave Dickson, who was a well-known beat cop in the Downtown Eastside and later served as a sex-work liaison officer for the Vancouver police, told the inquiry that WISH had a proven track record and should be the model for such a service.

WISH provides hot meals, showers, nursing care, referrals to other programs and safety notices, such as bad dates. Several of serial killer Robert Pickton's victims used WISH's services.

But the centre only had the funding to operate from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night of the week on a budget of about $320,000 a year. Less than half of it came from government sources.

Gibson said she had no advance warning that the money was going to be granted to WISH and she's not sure when the ramped-up services will start.

Pickton farm nearly forgotten as new development emerges


Port Coquitlam, B.C. — The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Dec. 17 2012

The Port Coquitlam property has since been redeveloped, giving rise to big businesses including a Costco, a Tim Hortons and a McDonald’s. But a decade ago, the sprawling property at 953 Dominion Ave. was Robert Pickton’s farm – the grisly setting from which police would embark on what is considered the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history.


A photo is held by the relative of a missing woman during a native drum circle in Vancouver December 17, 2012 in support of the families of the missing women as they make their way in to review the report from the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)


In pictures: Vancouver's missing women inquiry report released

Video of a January, 2000 police interview with convicted serial killer Robert Pickton was shown Tuesday at the missing women inquiry. Pickton claims a prostitute pulled a knife on him, five years before he was arrested.


Video: Clips of Pickton interrogation video shown at inquiry

Robert William Pickton, 52, shown here in a picture taken from TV.


Video: Pickton commission failed: Lawyer

As commissioner Wally Oppal prepares to release his 1,448-page report on Monday outlining why the serial killer wasn’t caught sooner, despite police having evidence linking Mr. Pickton to the disappearance of sex workers from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside years before his 2002 arrest, area locals say the Pickton case is now firmly a part of history.

“I know stuff happens,” said David Novotny, a construction worker who helped build a townhouse complex bordering the empty land that is the convict’s former home. “But I don’t dwell on the past.”

Despite working mere metres away from the property, the murders have rarely crossed Mr. Novotny’s mind.

The vast lot, where investigators found the remains or DNA of 33 women, is now enclosed by a chain-link fence. It stands almost entirely empty, save for two dirt mounds about two storeys high and a barn. The space served as a grazing area for cows following the Pickton case, but its only tenants now are Canada geese.

A sign on the barn reads Poco Valley Cattle Co.

Lauren Delory, a resident living near the new developments, said neighbours haven’t talked about the incident in a while.

“I haven’t heard anything with relevance to [the Pickton case]” since his trials, Ms. Delory said.

She hopes, however, that the missing women report can “give the families some peace of mind.”

The case is still a sensitive topic; furrowed brows and dark looks were common responses among residents asked about the incident.

Many who remember the incident said they no longer talk about the case and are looking to move on.

Mr. Pickton was charged with 26 murder counts, but convicted in 2007 in six. He is serving a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.


Wednesday, December 19

Compensating children of missing B.C. women is complicated: Oppal


VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012

The head of B.C.’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry says the children of missing and murdered women deserve financial compensation from the government, but concedes there are complicated questions to resolve.

Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal dealt briefly with the issue when he released his 1,448-page report this week, but elaborated on his views on Wednesday in an interview.


“The thinking was that these young people needed some kind of compensation in order to put them on a footing where they would have been had it not been for the wrongful deaths of their parents. The other thing is, we don’t want them to suffer the circumstances [of their parents] – in other words, they end up on the streets, and then they become marginalized and vulnerable,” he said.

Asked about how the provincial government should deal with children who accept compensation and then sue the police or other parties, Mr. Oppal said there are no obvious answers.

“The general rule is you can’t collect twice for the same incident. That’s generally what the rule of law is. That would be up to the government to decide how they want to approach that. If there is compensation from one source, government may well decide they would not want to pay.”

Mr. Oppal acknowledged that the province has already provided some compensation to families, but said his proposal is aimed at helping children “further their career enhancement and matters of that sort.”

On Wednesday, the B.C. Ministry of Justice and the Attorney-General said that the government has paid $1.44-million in crime-victim assistance benefits to the families of missing and murdered women in the case of Robert Pickton, who was convicted in 2007 in the deaths of six women and sentenced to life imprisonment. The remains of 33 women were found on his farm. During Mr. Pickton’s criminal trial, $124,000 was paid to families for travel costs. Travel funding of $186,000 was paid to families during Mr. Oppal’s inquiry.

Lilliane Beaudoin, the sister of victim Dianne Rock, told The Globe and Mail last year that Ms. Rock’s five children received payments of between $5,000 and $7,000. Ms. Rock’s mother, sisters, and brothers also received compensation, Ms. Beaudoin said at the time.

Mr. Oppal said he embraced the principle of compensation, including a “healing fund” for families, but is leaving it to the government to work through the details.

In a statement on Wednesday, Attorney-General Shirley Bond said she was mindful of compensation issues. “We know the importance of providing support to people who have lost loved ones to crime, especially under these tragic circumstances,” she said, adding her ministry is reviewing Mr. Oppal’s report to consider its response to the 63 recommendations.

Neil Chantler, one of the lawyers who represented the victims’ relatives at the inquiry, said he was pleasantly surprised his recommendation for a fund made it into the final report. “Frankly, we thought it was a long shot.”

Mr. Chantler said he hasn’t had an opportunity to contemplate just how it would work.

He acknowledged that some victims’ relatives received compensation around the time of Mr. Pickton’s trial. He said the amounts were in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 a person, and select family members received them.

He declined to comment when asked if the families could still pursue a class-action lawsuit.

Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn’s DNA was found on Mr. Pickton’s farm, said a compensation fund for the children is an excellent idea. “Compensation of this nature could enhance existing assistance programs for victims of violent crime. And such assistance would constitute a direct and meaningful acknowledgment of the unique status of the children of the missing and murdered women,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Mr. Oppal said he is satisfied with his own compensation for the inquiry. According to the Attorney-General’s ministry, he was paid $1,500 a day. Thomas Braidwood and William Davies were paid $1,750 a day for their inquiries on Taser use and the death of a homeless man, according to the ministry.

“It’s fair and I agreed to it,” Mr. Oppal said of his salary. “I can tell you, I worked very, very hard. I was here most Saturdays and most Sundays throughout the last two years.”

Oppal plays down interruptions

Mr. Oppal is shrugging off the chaotic interruptions that marked the news conference where this week he unveiled his report for the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. The former court justice and attorney-general was heckled, drowned out by chants and drumming and peppered with questions from angry spectators as he tried to sum up his work.

Mr. Oppal said he thought some of the questions “unfair,” and others “aggressive and argumentative,” but he handled the situation as best he could. He did not get angry, sarcastic or otherwise lash out, but simply accepted the abuse in one of the more remarkable releases of such a report recently in B.C.

“If someone lost a loved one, I understand their frustration and anger. In those circumstances, you may not always get the respect that you want,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “I knew it would not be easy. I didn’t think it was going to be quite like that, but I have patience for a lot of those people.”

He said the only barb that stuck was the suggestion he kept people out of the process. “Whatever else I was, I was inclusive,“ he said.

Ian Bailey


Robert Pickton’s victims have finally seen justice, if their defenders dare notice


The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012

All it takes is the cover of retired judge Wally Oppal’s 1,448-page report on Vancouver’s “missing women” to let readers know what he’s going to say. We see the image of a woman’s face made up of a cloud of words in English and in the language of the Sto:lo First Nations, words used during the hearings to describe the missing women, words such as “missed, loved, talented, courageous, hopeful, generous, sister, auntie…”




Video: Missing persons 'revamped' since Pickton case: Vancouver police



Video: Families of victims hopeful after Pickton inquiry

And if the word cloud doesn’t say enough, the title does: Forsaken. Indeed these women, murdered by serial Robert Pickton over a decade-long period, their disappearances ignored by authorities, were most certainly forsaken. And Mr. Oppal gets it.

His report is a tough – as well as comprehensive and compassionate – analysis of how dozens of women disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood and from other parts of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland to end up on Mr. Pickton’s filthy farm in Port Coquitlam.

So it’s too bad that frequent chanting and loud heckling from a variety of groups interrupted Mr. Oppal’s presentation on Monday. Some family members left the press conference in dismay as a result. To be fair, some of the people who were heckling were sure it was another whitewash that would fail to hold police to account over their neglect of the missing woman.

It’s not. The report does lay blame on the police, both the RCMP and the Vancouver Police. It lists their failures in detail. And it demands remedies that include financial support for the children of the women who died on the farm. In all, Mr. Oppal has made sixty-three recommendations. Predictably, people are already saying they are unrealistic and too expensive – just what people have always said when it comes to repairing the lives of the poor and addicted living in the Downtown Eastside. It is time we acknowledged that this neighbourhood is a running sore that is this beautiful city’s shame, and a place that is especially unkind to native men and women.

But this time, the skeptics were dealing with a man who knew all about racial discrimination. Mr. Oppal is, of course, the first Indo-Canadian judge to be appointed to British Columbia’s Supreme Court as well as the first appointed to the Court of Appeal. Mr. Oppal didn’t let the hecklers bother him; he just waited them out and soon had control of the room.

And this time, a day after Mr. Oppal’s report was released, Vancouver’s chief of police, Jim Chu, apologized to the families of the murdered women. “We should have and could have caught Pickton sooner,” he admitted.

But as some observers have noted, there were others in the crowd listening to Mr. Oppal on Monday who should examine their own responsibilities. The Downtown Eastside has many well-meaning agencies that lobby for their clients and try to look after the hungry and poor and homeless and addicted. But several of these agencies don’t work well together and they don’t see the bigger picture, the bigger needs. It’s all too often about who gets what, not how to help one another. It’s time to stop blaming and bickering and, yes, heckling. It’s time to start fixing this shameful problem.

Journalist Stevie Cameron is the author of two books investigating the Robert Pickton murders, The Pickton File (2007) and On The Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women(2010).


Tuesday, December 18

Honoring the Sandy Hook Shooting Victims

Pickton report highlights broken state of aboriginal culture


There is a “tragedy of epic proportion” in this country all right, but it isn’t the one cited in the enormous, expensive and weirdly cloying report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, better known as the Pickton inquiry.

That 1,448-page monster report was delivered in Vancouver this week by commissioner Wally Oppal.

Pickton, of course, is the serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton, who for years lured women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — many of them drug addicts or street sex workers — to his Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm.

Though he was a suspect from as early as 1998, Pickton wasn’t charged until almost four years later. When he was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder in 2007, 20 other murder charges were stayed.

Oppal, a former B.C. attorney-general, came to some predictable and already pretty well-established conclusions — that the Vancouver Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police botched investigation of the missing women for years and that their disappearances were ignored or downplayed, in the first instance, because the cops assumed they were transients prone to just disappearing.

Like most good Canadians, the commissioner meant well.

His worthy intentions are evident in the report’s title (Forsaken) and the sophomoric collage of words (“joyful, brave, loved, compassionate, mother, caring,” etc., etc.) that adorn the cover and are meant to recognize the murdered women as the complete and complicated human beings they were.

Oppal also offers the conventional Canadian solution mix of mea culpa (from the various police forces who dropped the ball), prescriptions for healing (even, God help me, the hiring of cultural and sex-trade advisors for the police) and sweeping institutional change that would, if implemented, cost the moon, rather like the inquiry itself, which as of last August had already cost $7.85-million, a goodly slice of that for lawyers and commission staff.

But the real tragedy in Canada is something that informs this report and so many others across the land — the crisis that is the broken state of aboriginal culture.

That grim reality makes itself felt in the Pickton report.

Oppal correctly notes numerous times aboriginal women are disproportionately represented both among the impoverished, battered women of the Downtown Eastside and among the list of missing and murdered women.

While only 3 per cent of B.C.’s population is Aboriginal, aboriginal women made up 33 per cent of the disappeared and dead, as by other measures they make up about 10 per cent of all female homicides in Canada.

The report includes mini-profiles of almost six dozen women — the most common numbers of the missing and murdered used in recent years. For the aboriginal women in particular, these profiles paint a ghastly portrait of a culture that is pathologically ill.

These stories, many written by family members, have many common elements: Alcoholism and drug addiction; fetal alcohol spectrum disorder repeating itself as a generational issue; physical and sexual abuse in the family; involvement of the child-welfare system; the prevalence of mental illness, such as schizophrenia; families rent by shocking violence, such as suicide and murder.

At various times, the same awful tale leaks out in dribs and drabs at various inquiries elsewhere in the country.

In Winnipeg right now, it is doing just that at two separate probes examining the killings of aboriginal youngsters who died at the hands of their mothers (in one case, with her violent partner), but who before their deaths, just like the Downtown Eastside women, had disappeared into inept Canadian bureaucracies, with no one much appearing to notice.

Both young women in Winnipeg came from shattered families where violence, abuse and profound dysfunction were the norm. Both were demonstrably dangerous parents, yet both were allowed and encouraged to “parent,” in the name of family reunification, with disastrous results.

Both women were failed twice — as vulnerable youngsters themselves, then as young parents in charge of vulnerable youngsters.

As wards of the state, and then as parents whose children were ostensibly being watched over by the state, the two women are part of an absolutely shattering statistic: Of Manitoba’s approximately 9,000 children who are in care, 8,000 are aboriginal.

Commenting on the tragic state of aboriginal culture wasn’t Oppal’s mandate. Neither is it the job of the child-welfare inquiries. And let’s be frank: There is little appetite, either in institutional Canada or among Canadians, for the full conversation.

Both sides, it seems, prefer the minute examinations of narrow systems failures — policing there, child welfare here, tomorrow the prison system or mental-health patchwork — with their demands for apologies and calls for healing, with resolute avoidance of the awful big picture.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Ian Mulgrew: Oppal’s report leaves the missing women forsaken once again


The final report of the Missing Women Inquiry delivered by Commissioner Wally Oppal in Vancouver on Monday drew an angry response from some audience members.

Photograph by: Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press

Missing Women’s Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal had been speaking for several minutes before the first derisive comment rang out: “Hogwash!”

Over the course of a rambling hour-long presentation unveiling his multi-volume report, the former appeal court justice was interrupted several times by victims’ families and aboriginal women.

They did not yell, “Bravo.”

Oppal, who was appointed to oversee the inquiry in September 2010, pleaded with his audience for understanding, for people to read the 1,448-page document and to consider his conclusions.

But the native people and victims’ families who attended his media conference on Monday responded with angry skepticism.

Who can blame them?

They had heard much of it before over the decade since serial killer Robert Pickton was apprehended — the police investigations were “blatant failures,” there were “patterns of error,” there was an “absence of leadership,” there were “outdated policing systems” …

Yet no one was to blame.

“All of us have to take responsibility,” Oppal said.

There was a “lack of accountability,” he said — there still is.

His solutions?

Working groups, liaison officers, community workers, mandatory training, research projects, consultation processes …

More money for victims’ kids, more money for victims’ families, more money for aboriginal women’s groups, more money for women’s shelters … a regional police force, a new agency for warning the public …

Police officers should “promote equality” and “refrain from discriminatory policing,” “equality” should be added as a fundamental principle to the Crown Policy Manual … there should be an end to endemic poverty!

Oppal might as well have thrown Jell-O at the wall and told the government to adopt whatever sticks.

He did a good job of documenting the police mistakes, but he didn’t do a good job of analyzing the reasons this tragedy occurred.

What seems missing from his tome was any perspective from the man who spent most of the last half-century in the legal system at every level.

From the prosecution service to the eccentricities of the provincial policing system, from the inner workings of the criminal justice branch to the politics of the bench, to how things get done in cabinet, Oppal is intimate with it all. And he’s from a visible minority group.

If there’s anyone who should know about institutional racism and systemic problems, it’s him.

Yet none of that insight was brought to bear. In spite of how much he says this was a heart-wrenching ordeal, Oppal appears to have simply gone through the motions.

And he is dead wrong when he says we are all responsible.

Yes, most of us should shoulder some blame for society’s inequalities.

But in this case, the media and the community clamoured for police to wake up and they were not just ignored, their fears and concerns were discounted and ridiculed.

It’s disingenuous to use long-standing social inequities to muddy the issue of institutional responsibility and the failure of government in this specific case.

Regardless, Attorney General Shirley Bond said the broad societal changes “will not happen overnight. There is a long journey ahead of us.”

No kidding. I’m reminded of a Jewish guy who once said the poor will be with you always, but let’s leave that quibble aside.

The systemic problems this report itemizes are also going to be with us for a long time.

The government’s response was to say we’ll have a lot more talk.

Bond committed to little else — the $750,000 she announced as funding for an emergency drop-in centre is considerably less than the legal fees charged by the commission’s own lawyers.

No wonder there were hecklers.

Imagine, after all this time, dozens of women went missing and now we know what went wrong — systemic failures in two police departments for which Mr. Nobody is responsible.

Still, given his conclusions, what was Oppal doing as attorney general from 2005 through 2009? Didn’t he see the systemic issues then?

At least he could have explained in his report why he’s making recommendations today on things he had the power to set right years ago.

Oppal said the missing women were “forsaken twice: once by society at large and again by the police.”

I tend to agree with the woman who yelled: “And now a third time by you!”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

'As a group, they were dismissed': missing women report

B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal today released 1,400-page report, entitled "Forsaken"


Cee Jai Julian, left, cries as Commissioner Wally Oppal (background) delivers his final report on the findings of the Missing Women Commission in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, December, 17, 2012.

Photograph by: Jonathan Hayward, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Karin Joesbury wipes away tears when asked whether the 1,448-page report into Vancouver’s missing women case could make a difference in the future for vulnerable women like her daughter Andrea.

  • Forsaken Report

  • 'As a group, they were dismissed': missing women report

    B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal today released 1,400-page report, entitled "Forsaken"


    Women hug as Commissioner Wally Oppal delivers the final report of the Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver, Monday, Dec.17, 2012.

    Photograph by: THE CANADIAN PRESS, Jonathan Hayward

    Karin Joesbury wipes away tears when asked whether the 1,448-page report into Vancouver’s missing women case could make a difference in the future for vulnerable women like her daughter Andrea.

    “I hoped it would change things. I hope that it does, I really do,” said Joesbury, whose daughter is one of the six women serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton has been convicted of murdering.

    “But I feel like we spent a lot of money, maybe wasted money.”

    The report released Monday comes more than two years after an $8-million inquiry was struck to examine the missing women case, and more than a decade since Pickton’s arrest.

    Former attorney general Wally Oppal, head of the inquiry, put 65 recommendations in his voluminous report, many of them calls for changes that have been discussed publicly over the years.

    Oppal hopes that listing the recommendations together in the hefty document will prompt policy-makers to act.

    He also believes the climate is right in B.C. to make some of the changes, such as bringing in regionalized policing and improving the treatment of vulnerable women.

    Oppal, a former B.C. Appeal Court justice, said his review of the investigation evidence led him to the conclusion “that there was systemic bias by the police in the missing women investigation.”

    “They did not receive equal treatment from police. As a group they were dismissed.”

    Some relatives of the missing women, who felt ignored by police, let down by the justice system, and left out of Oppal’s inquiry, aren’t convinced vulnerable women will be safer as a result of the report.

    “I think today has been a total sham, just like the whole inquiry has been,” said Angel Wolfe, 19, whose mother Brenda was another of Pickton’s victims. “We need to have the RCMP and VPD be accountable for the jobs they did.

    “Nothing Wally Oppal or the police can say to me will bring my mom back.”

    But Sandra Gagnon, who recalls not always being treated well by police when her sister Janet Henry disappeared, was buoyed by the report.

    “I’m really glad that he took it seriously, that he spoke well of the families and what the families have been through,” said Gagnon, who at one point during the press conference hushed other victims’ relatives because she wanted to hear Oppal.

    “I could tell that he’s really sincere and I’m glad something came of the inquiry, even though people say there isn’t going to be money for everything (all the recommendations).”

    And Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn vanished from the Downtown Eastside, said in an interview that Oppal’s report “exceeded his expectations” because it was an encyclopedic recount of how police “fell short of the mark” while investigating and how some officers failed to treat families with dignity and respect.

    “I couldn’t find a single recommendation that I would have an exception to,” said Crey, whose sister’s DNA was found on Pickton’s farm. “For me, it was a good day — more than I had expected.”

    The inquiry heard from 85 witnesses over 93 days and collected 150,000 pages of evidence, as it examined why it took so long for the Vancouver police and RCMP to identify Pickton as a serial killer, despite warnings he was preying on sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

    The provincial government has already addressed several of Oppal’s wide-ranging recommendations, including appointing former lieutenant-governor Steven Point as a “champion” to implement the findings.

    But Point faces a significant task, as some of the recommendations have been discussed without being acted on for years. These include regionalized policing and bus service along B.C.’s isolated Highway 16, where many women have disappeared.

    Others, such as increased sensitivity training and changes in how missing person cases are investigated, will require buy-in from police,

    Still others will cost money, such as a 24-hour drop-in centre in the Downtown Eastside and a compensation fund for the children of the missing women. That recommendation appealed to Cynthia Cardinal, whose sister Georgina Papin was one of Pickton’s victims.

    “Georgina’s kids — she’s got seven of them, they don’t have any support — except from us,” said Cardinal, who was devastated by the police response in her sister’s case, and isn’t confident things will change.

    Oppal wrote the VPD had an obligation to warn women in the Downtown Eastside about the danger they were in, “and utterly failed to do so.”

    The police investigations were also “wholly inadequate” when following up tips, were “plagued by unacceptable delays,” and failed to properly use techniques such as surveillance, undercover operations, search warrants and forensic evidence, the report said.

    It concluded the VPD showed a lack of urgency in responding to the mounting numbers of missing women, partly because police failed to “get to know” the victims and believed inaccurate information, such as that they would “turn up” one day.

    Since Clifford Olson’s killing spree decades ago, there have been multiple calls for a regional force in the Lower Mainland, which is policed by a patchwork quilt of municipal agencies and RCMP detachments. Pickton’s victims disappeared from the VPD’s territory, but he did his killing at his home in Port Coquitlam, which is policed by the RCMP.

    Oppal’s report said there was a “general systemic failure” by the two agencies to deal with those cross-jurisdictional issues. This fragmentation of policing led to “serious communications failures,” a breakdown in evidence sharing, and a lack of funding because of the low priority given to the case, the report said.

    As well, he said, the case lacked any leadership by any police agency.“No senior management at the VPD, RCMP E Division Major Crime Section, Coquitlam RCMP, or Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit took on this leadership role and asserted ongoing responsibility for the case.”

    There was a “wholly unacceptable delay,” Oppal added, in finally forming a joint-forces task force in 2001; by then an estimated 60 women had disappeared from the Downtown Eastside over about 20 years.

    Deputy RCMP Commissioner Craig Callens said in a statement that he welcomed Oppal’s report, but would need time to review the recommendations.

    Vancouver police would not comment Monday.

    Minister of Justice Shirley Bond argued police agencies are more integrated today, but said the call for regional policing “will be treated seriously and given the attention it deserves.”

    Oppal said not all the mistakes in the case belong to police, noting there were other systemic issues that led to the victims ending up on the street, including poverty, racism, drug addiction and a lack of affordable housing.

    “Even though Pickton is in jail, the violence against women in the Downtown Eastside and other areas of this province continues. It is time to stop the violence,” Oppal said.

    Families in the audience broke out in applause, and one woman yelled, “Amen!”

    However, Oppal was regularly interrupted by family members yelling “hogwash” and “sham,” as the majority appeared to have given up hope that the report would speak for them.

    The inquiry itself was divisive. Victims’ families, women’s groups and aboriginal leaders said it focused too narrowly on policing and didn’t call witnesses to speak about systemic issues that put the victims on the streets. When the terms of reference were not expanded and the province denied funding for lawyers for the advocacy groups, many organizations boycotted the inquiry.

    Two lawyers were appointed to broadly represent the interests of aboriginals and people living in the impoverished Downtown Eastside. Critics said this was not fair, as more than two dozen lawyers represented police and government.

    In an interview with The Sun, Oppal listed the “blatant errors” made in the case, including:

  • Society — including most police officers, politicians and citizens — initially dismissing the poor, marginalized victims as “nobodies.”
  • Vancouver police took poor reports when families phoned to say loved ones were missing, and acted without urgency.
  • In March 1997, a Downtown Eastside sex worker escaped from Pickton’s farm after being violently stabbed. Pickton was charged with attempted murder (the charges were later stayed) and a concerned RCMP officer attached a warning to his name on the police computer system. Even though the victim told police Pickton bragged about bringing women to his home, Pickton was not a priority suspect that year when many sex trade workers disappeared.
  • There was “an unseemly fight” between former VPD Det. Kim Rossmo, who wanted to warn the public in 1998 that a serial killer may be preying on vulnerable women, and then-Insp. Fred Biddlecombe, who vetoed the idea, arguing there was no evidence to support it. “Public safety was compromised by not warning the public,” Oppal said.
  • The Vancouver police missing person unit was understaffed, and families said an administrative assistant there was indifferent and rude.
  • Between 1998 and 1999, four informants had pointed fingers at Pickton, but Vancouver police did little with the information. The informants included Bill Hiscox, whose friend Lisa Yelds had seen women’s clothing on the farm and thought Pickton was killing women, and Lynn Ellingsen, who said she saw a woman being butchered in the slaughterhouse. (Police have said the witnesses were problematic, as they were drug users and changed their stories.)
  • RCMP Const. Ruth Yurkiw phoned Pickton’s farm in 1999, but his brother Dave asked her to call back in the “rainy season” when they weren’t as busy and she agreed.
  • Project Evenhanded, the joint RCMP-VPD task force, thought at first it was investigating only historic murders, even though women continued to disappear. It also spent too much time looking for a connection between three murdered sex-trade workers found near Mission and the Downtown Eastside cases.

    Forsaken Report

  • Missing People Net – 1999 - 2012