Wednesday, February 29

First chance to catch Pickton was unrelated guns search

don adam-inspector

TAMSYN BURGMANN

Vancouver – The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Serial killer Robert Pickton was caught at the earliest chance a police task force had to nab him, said a lead investigator on the missing women case, who suggested hindsight is prompting critics to overlook the facts at the time.

Retired Staff Sergeant Don Adam, who helmed the Project Evenhanded task force starting in January 2001, told the missing women's inquiry on Wednesday that his joint RCMP-Vancouver Police unit did “capitalize” on the first opportunity that came up.

In February, 2002, his officers accompanied a Mountie who was executing an unrelated search warrant on Mr. Pickton's Port Coquitlam, B.C. farm.

“Now, somehow, that's become a bad thing in everyone's minds,” he testified.

“There was no earlier breaks, I don't believe, that we missed.”

The inquiry is examining why the serial killer was not caught sooner.

Mr. Pickton was among a lengthy list of suspects drawn up by the task force, which was formed to find patterns between hundreds of potential cases of missing sex workers from the city's Downtown Eastside and examine who might be responsible.

At the time, two other investigations had already narrowed in on the likelihood Mr. Pickton was killing women. The Vancouver Police Department led one, while another was run by the Coquitlam RCMP detachment that policed the suburban area where the man lived.

But none of those probes coalesced.

Staff Sgt. Adam said he knew Mr. Pickton was a prime suspect for Vancouver Police, but his superiors had specifically directed him to conduct a “holistic review” that couldn't pick favourites for fear of overlooking other vital evidence.

Eventually, his officers realized they had an active killer on their hands.

But he cautioned the inquiry against taking a “Mr. Pickton-centric” view in looking at how the events leading to the man's arrest had unfolded.

“I followed [my] mandate, along with Mr. Pickton – putting him in jail for life. I followed that mandate right through to the end on everyone. Which is exactly the mandate that the police forces and the government financed, and wanted me to do.

“We don't get to change history here, I hope.”

The task force did know that police had checked out Mr. Pickton in both 1997 and 1999 after a sex worker was nearly stabbed to death and then when a tipster said Mr. Pickton had been seen butchering a woman's body. It also knew that DNA evidence had eliminated him in a series of serial murders in the Fraser Valley.

Mr. Pickton had not, however, been recently spotted in the city's Downtown Eastside, he said.

Asked by an inquiry lawyer whether he had been informed of the full extent of the missing women file, Adam's testimony opposed the tone of previous witnesses who felt information was not shared adequately.

“It wasn't lack of communication,” he said, noting that different police forces was not the problem and that members of his team were in touch with the others.

“I didn't have a proper appreciation ... as to how many ways that missing person unit was being pushed and pulled.”

And he said he underestimated the manpower it would take for such a massive investigation. The task force was both streamlining thousands of missing women cases, to determine which applied, and examining the possibility of hundreds of suspects.

“Unfortunately that's all part of experience and living through it.”

In hindsight, the 40-year veteran said he would have managed his task force better, watching over all the different people involved more closely.

“Evenhanded's lessons have not been lost. They're being used,” he said.

Mr. Pickton was arrested after members of Project Evenhanded found the remains and belongings of missing sex workers during a search for illegal firearms on his farm.

A giant forensic excavation was initiated that turned up the DNA of 33 women.

Mr. Pickton was eventually charged with killing 26, and convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six.

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

Police team leader defends two-month vacation during serial killer's spree

BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 29, 2012 4:20 PM

Retired RCMP Staff-Sgt. Don Adam at the Missing Women inquiry in Vancouver, February 15, 2012.

Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG

VANCOUVER - The team leader of a joint forces VPD-RCMP investigation that was looking into serial killer Robert Pickton explained Wednesday why he went on a two-month vacation while the murders continued.

Don Adam recalled he went on vacation because he had been told that women had stopped disappearing in 1999 from the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"Being told and reading documents that it had stopped obviously influenced me," he told the Missing Women inquiry.

He said he wasn't made aware of new reports of missing women until August 2001.

Adam agreed that before that, there had not been a sense of urgency to the joint forces investigation, which began Feb. 26, 2001, he said.

The purpose of the investigation was to review all the unsolved murders of women across B.C.

Adam said his mandate was to determine whether one or more serial killers were responsible for the past murders and the disappearances of dozens of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"It wasn't proceeding on the basis that there was an active serial killer out there," he recalled.

Once the joint investigation known as Project Evenhanded realized there was an active serial killer, he said, the police investigation became pro-active in early 2002.

Adam recalled that Pickton was a top "priority one" suspect, but added there were many.

"Pickton was a great suspect. So were others," Adam told inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal.

He pointed out that investigators had met with their counterparts in Seattle, who investigated the Green River killer.

"We had a discussion about what to do to get in front of the killing," Adam said.

"Obviously he was killing but he was under our radar," he said of Pickton, noting that there were no sightings of Pickton in the Downtown Eastside being reported to police at the time.

He said police eventually got a "break" and solved the case in February 2002.

A rookie Mountie, unrelated to Project Evenhanded, got a search warrant to check Pickton's farm for illegal guns. He found the guns but also discovered identification and personal items in Pickton's home belonging to missing women.

Police then got another search warrant to search for evidence of murders.

The forensic search - the largest in Canadian history - went on for almost two years and found the remains and DNA of 33 missing women.

Cross-examined by commission counsel Art Vertlieb, Adam said he knew about the previous VPD and Coquitlam RCMP investigations had considered Pickton as the prime suspect.

The retired Mountie said investigators did not interview Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Mike Connor, who had investigated a 1997 knife attack by Pickton on a prostitute from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The woman slashed Pickton with a knife while at Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam; she survived after running to the street and flagging down a passing car.

Pickton was charged with attempted murder and unlawful confinement but those charges were dropped in 1998 by the Crown, who felt the victim was unreliable because she was a drug addict.

The same year, the VPD received a series of tips that Pickton may be responsible for the dozens of missing women.

Informants told VPD Const. Lori Shenher that Pickton had bags of women's bloody clothing and women's identification, which he kept as "trophies" of his crimes, and bragged that he could dispose of bodies.

The most shocking tip was that a woman staying with Pickton one night had witnessed Pickton butchering a woman's body in his barn, where Pickton often butchered pigs.

Connor investigated the tips passed along by VPD but was taken off the case in August 1999 when he was promoted and transferred to become on patrol supervisor.

"You didn't instruct anyone at Evenhanded to interview Mike Connor?" Vertlieb asked Adam.

"There's nothing magic about Mike Connor," replied Adam, who now is retired.

"You'd go and talk to people who took over the file," he added.

Questioned further, Adam said he never spoke to the Mountie who took over the investigation from Connor.

"I was the team commander," Adam said, saying he could have assigned an officer to do so but never did.

The inquiry heard earlier how the Pickton investigation by Coquitlam RCMP stalled after RCMP Cpl. Frank Henley interviewed the woman who supposedly saw Pickton with a dead body. The woman, Lynn Ellingsen, denied she ever saw Pickton with a dead body.

Adam recalled Henley came to see him to inform him he didn't believe in Connor's investigation and didn't believe Pickton was a killer.

Connor testified he is still upset today that Henley caused the Pickton investigation to stall. He recalled even after he was taken off the case, he would sit outside Pickton's farm, hoping the catch the killer in the act.

Adam will continue his testimony Thursday, when he will be cross-examined by Cameron Ward, the lawyer representing 25 families of murdered and missing women.

Next Monday, the inquiry will hear from a panel of three former VPD officers, now retired: Dave Dickson, a constable who was trusted by sex trade workers; Doug MacKay-Dunn, a former staff-sgt. who now is a North Vancouver District councillor; and Gary Greer, a former deputy chief who was in charge of District Two, which included the downtown eastside.

The inquiry, which began last Oct. 11, is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton.

Pickton was convicted of six murders at his first trial in 2007.

The day he was arrested, Pickton confessed to his jail cell mate - an undercover officer - that he killed 49 women.

nhall@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Police appear "perfect" in Missing Women testimony

BY JERALD SMOLIAK, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 29, 2012

Re: Former VPD chief defends handling of missing women investigation, Feb. 21

Every police officer involved in the Pickton investigation has parroted the identical company line: "I made no mistakes. I would not have done any-thing different."

Well, I stand corrected, chastised and embarrassed; I had no idea such an organization even existed. A huge conglomerate composed of thousands of employees and yet, to a man, they simply do not make mistakes, they are perfect human beings, and even in hindsight (with 50-plus women butchered on their watch) would still do nothing different.

We are truly blessed to be protected by such a saintly organization. We should double their salaries.

Jerald Smoliak, Tsawwassen

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Women feel no safer now than when Pickton prowled Downtown Eastside, inquiry told

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE FEBRUARY 29, 2012

Photo of victim Sarah de Vries is placed on witness stand at Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver on Feb. 27, 2012 as panel member Jamie Lee Hamiltion addresses the commission.

Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, PNG

Vancouver sex trade workers are still being told by police to move to dark and dangerous “containment zones” north of East Hastings St., the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was told Tuesday.

And the inquiry heard that sex workers feel no safer now than when serial killer Robert Pickton preyed on Downtown Eastside residents in the 1990s.

“This inquiry has been told police had hundreds of suspects in late 1999, of men preying on sex workers — is that still the case today?” lawyer Jason Gratl asked panel member Jamie Lee Hamilton, an advocate for sex workers.

Hamilton, who said she is “constantly in communication with survival sex workers,” said “there are still literally hundreds of violent men for them to watch out for.”

Survival sex workers, said Hamiton, are drug-addicted women forced to work for low pay in dangerous areas, frequented by many violent offenders.

“I have myself called the VPD to ask for more officers to protect women and am told they simply don’t have the resources,” said Hamilton, a First Nations Cree woman who entered the sex trade herself at age 15, in 1971.

Hamilton told Commissioner Wally Oppal, who thanked the panel profusely, that police and Crown counsel should consider granting immunity to “women who are victims of violence. Right now women don’t trust police.

Asked if police and Crown should grant immunity from prosecution to sex workers who are victims of violence, Hamilton replied “I’m hoping this comision can go down that path.”

Hamilton agreed with Gratl, a lawyer for “Downtown Eastside interests” that many sex workers use illicit drugs and are facing warrants or charges.

“They are told they won’t be arrested if they move along to the containment zone north of Hastings St. but it’s dark, isolated and very unsafe,” said Hamilton, noting that Pickton’s former “hunting-ground” around the Waldorf and Astoria Hotels is still the most dangerous area for sex workers.

Even sex workers along Kingsway, where Hamilton now runs a licensed business, are told to “move out of that area to the containment zones.

“They’re told not to work in pairs and to keep walking, so they can’t check out a date in a car or get a friend to take down license plates for them.”

In response to questions by lawyer Robyn Gervais, acting for First Nations groups, Hamilton also called on Oppal to recommend that the VPD sex trade liaison officer Linda Malcolm work with a civilian and aboriginal liaison.

Hamilton also recommended aboriginal counsellors for sex workers, since First Nations women make up 50 to 60 per cent of those in the sex trade.

Oppal thanked Hamilton, saying “you’ve done so much good advocacy over the years in various groups and I commend you for that.”

Oppal also thanked panel member Maggie de Vries, author of a book about her sister Sarah de Vries, who went missing in 1998 and was confirmed in 2002 as a victim of Pickton. “Your book should be required reading,” said Oppal.

He also thanked de Vries for “bringing Sarah to the inquiry” with Sarah’s writing and a video in which an articulate Sarah described drug addiction.

De Vries told the inquiry that the mistaken belief that the missing women were “transient” who would show up eventually, “not only prevented police from looking for the missing women, it was a wrong strategy that cost some women their lives.”

This week, the inquiry has shifted to a “less adversarial” approach of hearing from community panels rather than experts and police officers. Oppal said the “shift” will help him form useful recommendations.

On Wednesday, the inquiry will return to retired RCMP Insp. Don Adam, former head of Project Evenhanded, the joint RCMP-VPD Missing Women Task Force.

Next week, the inquiry will hear from a police panel from District 2, the Downtown Eastside, made up for former VPD Const. Dave Dickson, former VPD Supt. Gary Greer and a third police officer.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Lead officer thought disappearances stopped in 1999, Pickton inquiry hears

BY NEAL HALL, POSTMEDIA NEWS FEBRUARY 29, 2012 4:07 PM

Retired RCMP Staff-Sgt. Don Adam at the Missing Women inquiry in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG

VANCOUVER — The leader of a joint Vancouver Police Department-RCMP investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton said Wednesday he went on a two-month vacation while the murders continued because he had been told that the disappearances of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside had stopped in 1999.

"Being told and reading documents that it had stopped obviously influenced me," Don Adam told the Missing Women inquiry, which is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton.

He said he wasn't made aware of new reports of missing women until August 2001.

Adam agreed that before that, there had not been a sense of urgency to the joint forces investigation, which began Feb. 26, 2001.

He said the purpose of the investigation was to examine all the unsolved murders of women across British Columbia.

Adam said his mandate, as team leader, was to determine whether one or more serial killers were responsible for the past murders or disappearances of women.

"It wasn't proceeding on the basis that there was an active serial killer out there," he recalled.

Once the joint investigation known as Project Evenhanded realized there was an active serial killer, he said, police became proactive.

Adam recalled that Pickton was a top "Priority 1" suspect, but there were many.

"Pickton was a great suspect. So were others," Adam told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.

He pointed out that investigators had met with their counterparts in Seattle, who investigated the Green River killer — Gary Ridgway — who pleaded guilty in 2003 to dozens of murders, mostly involving prostitutes or runaways.

"We had a discussion about what to do to get in front of the killing," Adam said.

"Obviously, he was killing but he was under our radar," he said of Pickton, noting that there were no sightings of Pickton in the Downtown Eastside being reported to police at the time.

He said police eventually got a "break" and solved the case in February 2002.

A rookie Mountie, unrelated to Project Evenhanded, got a search warrant to check Pickton's farm for illegal guns.

Police found the guns but also discovered identification and personal items in Pickton's home that belonged to missing women.

Police then got another search warrant to search for evidence of murders.

The forensic search — the largest in Canadian history — went on for almost two years and found the remains and DNA of 33 missing women.

Cross-examined by commission counsel Art Vertlieb, Adam said he knew about the previous Vancouver police and Coquitlam, B.C., RCMP investigations that had considered Pickton the prime suspect.

But he said Project Evenhanded had first to list all suspects and then begin prioritizing them.

Adam said investigators did not interview Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Mike Connor, who had investigated a 1997 knife attack by Pickton on a prostitute from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The woman slashed Pickton with a knife while at Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam. She survived after running to the street and flagging down a passing car.

Pickton was charged with attempted murder and unlawful confinement but those charges were dropped in 1998 by the Crown, which felt the victim was unreliable because she was a drug addict.

The same year, the Vancouver police received a series of tips that Pickton might be responsible for the dozens of missing women.

Informants told Const. Lori Shenher that Pickton had bags of women's bloody clothing and women's identification, which he kept as "trophies" of his crimes and bragged that he could dispose of bodies.

The most shocking tip was that a woman staying with Pickton one night had witnessed him butchering a woman's body in his barn, where he often butchered pigs.

Connor investigated the tips passed along by the Vancouver police but was taken off the case in August 1999 when he was promoted and transferred to become a patrol supervisor.

"You didn't instruct anyone at Evenhanded to interview Mike Connor?" Vertlieb asked Adam.

"There's nothing magic about Mike Connor," replied Adam, who now is retired.

"You'd go and talk to people who took over the file," he added.

Questioned further, Adam said he never spoke to the Mountie who took over the investigation from Connor.

"I was the team commander," Adam said, saying he could have assigned an officer to do so but never did.

Pickton was convicted of six murders at his first trial in 2007.

The day he was arrested, he told his cellmate — an undercover officer — that he had killed 49 women.

The inquiry began last Oct. 11. Its report, which is expected to make recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy, must be submitted to the provincial government by the end of June.

nhall@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, February 28

"Am I next?" serial killer victim wrote before vanishing in 1998

BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 28, 2012 4:01 PM

Sarah de Vries holding her son Ben.

Photograph by: Mike Cassese, Special to the Sun

VANCOUVER - The Missing Women inquiry heard again today from Sarah de Vries, one of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.

"Am I next?" de Vries wrote in 1995, three years before she disappeared.

"Is he watching me now? Stalking me like a predator and its prey. Waiting, waiting for some perfect spot, time or my stupid mistake. How does one choose a victim? Good question. If I knew that, I would never get snuffed."

The passage from de Vries' journal was read out from the book, Missing Sarah, written by her older sister, Maggie de Vries, who teaches creative writing at the University of B.C.

She read another passage for the inquiry, written the year before Sarah vanished in April 1998 while working as a street prostitute at the corner of Princess and East Hastings in Vancouver.

"Somebody's going to leave us tonight," Sarah wrote months before she was killed.

"I don't know who and I don't know why. I feel it, I fear it, it's in the air. It's so just...well, just there. It makes my flesh tingle from goose bumps and sends my heart through a flash of panic.

Sarah wrote that she felt "cold, emotionless, empty, yet too tough to show that you're cracking inside and starting to cry.

"Deep, deeper and deeper still, way down in the abyss of my heart a spark shows through all the empty, cold darkness."

Maggie de Vries told the inquiry that her sister's writing shows that even though Sarah presented a hard exterior to the world "inside that shell there is a person in pain."

She said Sarah took precautions to stay alive but despite her fears she was killed, likely because she "may have encountered a rapid use of force."

The inquiry has heard that Sarah was unhappy with her life, her $1,000-a-day drug addiction and being separated from her young son and daughter, who were raised by Sarah's mother, a former head nurse at Vancouver General Hospital.

Sarah was adopted and was the only black child of four children who grew up in wealthy west Point Grey. Their father was a professor at UBC.

She ran away from home and ended up on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Maggie de Vries told the inquiry that police need to build trust with survival sex workers.

"We don't see real people, we see stereotypes," she told the inquiry. "Dehumanizing stereotypes."

She recalled police, when Sarah was first reported missing, didn't make Maggie feel that her sister's disappearance was important.

She said she wasn't contacted by police for a week to 10 days after she reported Sarah missing. She would have appreciated more police contact and more updates. '

One Vancouver police detective, Lori Shenher, showed warmth, but she was overworked investigating the mounting number of missing women cases, de Vries said.

She recalled attending a Vancouver police meeting with families of the missing women in June 1999.

"We were patted on the head and told to go away," she recalled feeling after that meeting.

She said police didn't seem to take things seriously until The Vancouver Sun did a series on the growing missing women problem.

Maggie de Vries is part of a panel at the inquiry, along with Wayne Leng and sex trade activist Jamie Lee Hamilton.

Leng recalled he established a website, missingpeople.net, in January 1999.

Initially it was a tribute to his friend Sarah, he said, but eventually it was expanded to include all the missing women.

Leng said he also brought the problem to the attention of the TV program America's Most Wanted, which did a show about the dozens of missing women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The inquiry, after hearing four months of testimony from experts and many police witnesses, has decided to move to panel discussions to try to find practical recommendations to make to government.

"Our focus is to prevent this from ever occurring again" inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal told the panel today.

The panelists suggested police need to make more effort to build trust with sex trade workers.

The inquiry recently had 24 lawyers, most of them representing police, but the number has dwindled to less than a dozen when the first panel began Monday.

The inquiry is expected to resume the cross-examination Wednesday of Don Adam, the former team leader of the joint VPD-RCMP investigation of Pickton that began in early 2001, which was code-named Project Evenhanded.

Scheduled for next Monday is a panel of three former VPD officers, now retired: Dave Dickson, a constable who was trusted by sex trade workers; Doug MacKay-Dunn, a former staff-sgt. who now is a North Vancouver District councillor; and Gary Greer, a former deputy chief who was in charge of District Two, which included the downtown eastside.

The inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, who began killing Vancouver women in the early 1990s.

His killing spree escalated before he was arrested in February 2002.

Pickton was convicted of six murders at his first trial in 2007. The Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial for another 20 murder counts after Pickton lost all appeal.

The murder of Sarah de Vries was among the charges stayed for the second trail.

Police found the DNA of 33 women during an 18-month search of Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam.

Pickton, now 63, confided to an undercover officer, posing as a jail cell mate, that he killed 49 women.

nhall@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Monday, February 27

Sex-trade worker’s journal shows police indifferent to beaten, half-naked woman

VANCOUVER — Police missed a “precious moment” to gain the trust of a half-naked and badly beaten sex-trade worker who walked into their Vancouver-area office, choosing instead to ridicule the woman whose remains were later found on serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm, the woman’s sister told an inquiry Monday.

Sarah de Vries was turned back out on to the street to hitchhike to her Downtown Eastside home after the attack that prompted her to seek help from the police, her sister, author Maggie de Vries, told the inquiry into police handling of the Pickton case.

De Vries said the undated incident was recorded in Sarah’s journal sometime before she vanished in 1998 and became one of the 20 women on the list of charges dropped against Pickton.

Sarah is the adopted daughter of Pat de Vries, a Guelph resident who is now raising Sarah’s two children.

Maggie de Vries has read her younger sister’s journals and wrote a book about her sister, but she kept Sarah’s traumatic encounter — first with a “bad date” and then with police — to herself until now.

De Vries did not specify what police did to ridicule her sister.

She told the inquiry Sarah described being picked up by a customer in the Downtown Eastside, being taken to a remote location east of Vancouver in Port Moody and then being badly beaten.

Sarah made it to a police station, de Vries said, but officers there turned her out without even offering the half-naked woman a blanket.

“It was that moment when she was in dire distress, (it) was the one opportunity perhaps in her whole life that police had to respond in a helpful manner to her,” she told Commissioner Wally Oppal.

Maggie said police could have demonstrated to her they were there to help, but she was further victimized.

“Instead, they humiliated her, they sent her back out to experience more violence and they sent a very clear message to her that this wasn’t a good idea.”

She said the officers badly misused the precious moment, cementing the distrust those in the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside had against police.

“You were better off to go straight to the highway and stick out your thumb,” Maggie said of her sister’s journal entry.

The inquiry has heard other sex-trade workers in the area where women were disappearing had information about Pickton, but didn’t share it with police.

“I think that had the police taken advantage of all of those moments and built that trust in those relationships, that information might have been more forthcoming,” Maggie said.

“That could have led to Robert Pickton being arrested earlier and that could mean that there’d be women still living and breathing in the world today who are now dead.”

Maggie’s testimony comes on the same day RCMP in Burnaby, B.C., say they caught a suspected serial sex offender working the Downtown Eastside. Police went out of their way to indicate they were not letting history repeat itself by not taking attacks on sex-trade workers in the area seriously.

Twelve charges involving four women have been laid against the man.

Maggie’s information was part of a panel presentation to the commission, along with sex-trade activist Jamie Lee Hamilton and Sarah’s friend Wayne Leng, who later started a web page about the missing women from the area.

Hamilton, a transsexual who started out in Vancouver’s sex trade in the 1970s, said the work became much more dangerous when police pressured the women to move to the industrial areas of the city.

Sex-trade workers were being fined $2,000 just for standing on the street after the City of Vancouver passed a street-activity bylaw, she said.

Hamilton, who was issued the fine, said that was a lot of money to make up when oral sex was running about $60 and “full service” ranged up to $150.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s pimps were starting to victimize women, hard drugs were prevalent and police were pushing women to work in the back alleys of the Downtown Eastside.

“I remember saying (to police): ‘You’re not going to be satisfied until we’re pushed into the water,’” Hamilton said, who by that time had been working as an advocate for the Downtown Eastside Residents Association.

Hamilton said the actions by police put sex-trade workers at a much greater risk to be picked up by a serial killer.

She contradicted testimony given last week by former Vancouver police chief Terry Blythe, who said the department supported Hamilton’s safe house.

Instead she said the police targeted the place she called Grandma’s House, a place for sex workers where they could get food, clothing and support.

“If they were (supportive) they wouldn’t have shut us down in the midst of a serial killer roaming the streets of the Downtown Eastside.”

Vancouver Police charged Hamilton with keeping a common bawdy house after a raid in August 2000. The charges were stayed three years later.

“If the consequence was to put us at further risk of a serial killer, well the mission was accomplished,” she told the inquiry.

The inquiry is looking into why it took so long for police to stop the serial killer before his arrest in 2001.

Pickton was eventually convicted of killing six women, but confessed to an undercover officer that he murdered 49 women.

The DNA of 33 women was found on Pickton’s pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

The Canadian Press

Missing Women inquiry hears from victim of serial killer Robert Pickton

BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 27, 2012 4:51 PM

Witnesses, from left, Jamie Lee Hamilton, Maggie de Vries and Wayne Leng at Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver on Monday, February 27, 2012.

Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, PNG

VANCOUVER - The Missing Women inquiry heard for the first time Monday from one of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.

A five-minute video was played at the inquiry showing Sarah de Vries shooting heroin and talking about her $1,000 a day drug habit.

The video was shot by CBC-TV in 1993, at a time when there had been a number of heroin overdose death in Vancouver.

In the video, de Vries stated matter-of-factly that she knew the heroin might kill her and warned others to stay away from the drug.

Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal also heard a number of writings by de Vries, which were read out by her sister, Maggie de Vries, an author who teaches creative writing at the University of B.C. and wrote an award-winning book about her sister, Missing Sarah.

The older sister recalled Sarah was adopted when she was 11 months old and was one of four children who grew up in wealthy west Point Grey.

Their father was a UBC professor and their mother was a head nurse at Vancouver General Hospital.

Maggie recalled she didn't realize it at the time, but Sarah, who was part black and part aboriginal, suffered overt racism.

Sarah felt she was a "loser loner," her sister said, reading out some of Sarah's journal entries, which said she was kicked and punched in school and had rocks thrown at her while walking home.

"I knew Sarah felt alienation that she was the only black child in our white family," recalled Maggie.

Sarah called herself "the literal black sheep of the family," her sister said.

Maggie de Vries was one of three people to testify at a panel Monday about their overlapping experiences involving Sarah de Vries, who disappeared on April 14, 1998, when she was 28.

Pickton was charged with the first-degree murder of Sarah de Vries after her DNA was found during an exhaustive forensic search -- the largest in Canadian history -- at the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam after the serial killer's arrest in 2002.

At the time Sarah disappeared, Vancouver police denied that a serial killer was preying on women

The force kiboshed a draft press release that VPD Det.-Insp. Kim Rossmo wanted to issue in 1998, which included a public warning that a possible serial killer was on the loose.

Maggie de Vries said police had a duty to warn the vulnerable women of the Downtown Eastside (DTES), where dozens of women disappeared but police maintained the women were transient and would eventually show up.

High-ranking Vancouver police officers testified earlier that nothing would have changed if the warning was issued because the street sex trade workers were so drug addicted that they would not have changed their behaviour.

"You're blaming the victim," Maggie de Vries said of the police rationalization for not issuing the warning to survival sex workers.

"Women should have been given that choice," she said. "It's their job to warn us if we're in danger."

Instead, she said, "He murdered women after woman after woman. A warning might have given him pause . . . It might have saved one woman's life."

"The women didn't know," added Jamie Lee Hamilton, who joined de Vries and Wayne Leng for a panel discussion Monday about how to improve communication and trust between police and street prostitutes working the DTES.

"They didn't have access to computers, they don't buy newspapers," Hamilton added. "They're in survival mode."

She added: "We owe it to marginalized communities to assist them in any way we can."

Wayne Leng, a car mechanic, recalled meeting Sarah one day while he was out for a drive and stopped at a grocery store near Princess and Hastings, the corner where Sarah worked.

"Wow, this is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen," Leng said he thought when he first saw Sarah in 1994.

During the next four years, they developed a deep friendship, he said, with Sarah often staying weekends at his apartment in Vancouver.

He recalled she often became "drug sick" and he'd give her money to buy drugs to stave off the sickness that comes with the powerful withdrawal symptoms.

Leng saw Sarah the day before she went missing.

"Be cool, my friend," Leng told her. He said Sarah replied: "I'll call you."

When she didn't call, he knew she was missing. Leng said he also talked to Sarah's drug dealer, who thought she was dead.

Maggie de Vries reported her sister missing to police and helped Leng put up missing posters.

The sister saw other missing posters in the DTES and felt police weren't doing enough to investigate the cases.

Hamilton testified that the displacement of the sex trade from Vancouver's West End to darker industrial areas of the city made it more dangerous for women working the streets.

The women were pushed out of the West End during a "Shame the Johns" campaign, which resulted in an injunction to stop prostitution in the area.

The women were first pushed into industrial areas of the city's Mount Pleasant district and later north of Hastings, east of Main Street.

She also recalled women worked in clusters, to look out for each other, but police later discouraged clustering, which made things more dangerous and the women more vulnerable.

She said women also became more reluctant to report violence and abuse to police because of police harassment and the women not being taken seriously.

Hamilton recalled she had set up a safe place, Grandma's House, for sex trade workers in the downtown eastside.

She said police shut down Grandma's House, despite former Vancouver police chief Terry Blythe saying he was supportive of Grandma's House.

"If they were supportive, they wouldn't have shut us down while a serial killer was roaming the streets," Hamilton told the inquiry.

Maggie de Vries recalled that Sarah was badly beaten one time by a customer who took her to Port Moody.

Sarah escaped half-naked and went to the Port Moody police station, where she was ridiculed by male officer.

Sarah left and tried to hitchhike back to the DTES, but the driver of the car grabbed her and tried to sexually assault her, so she got out of the car and caught a cab.

Maggie said it may have been the only time her sister went to police on her own volition and asked for help.

"Instead they humiliated her and sent her back out, where she faced further violence," Maggie said.

She said police should have given Sarah a blanket, found somewhere where she could sit and found a female officer to help with her.

Pickton was convicted of six murders at his first trial in 2007. After he lost all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial on another 20 murder counts. The murder of Sarah de Vries was among the charges stayed. Pickton, now 63, confided to an undercover officer after his arrest in 2002 that he killed 49 women.

The inquiry is probing why police didn't catch Pickton sooner.

nhall@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Panel lament police role change from sex worker protectors to law enforcers

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINC EFEBRUARY 27, 2012 3:08 PM

VANCOUVER , BC: FEBRUARY 27, 2012 -- Witness panel, from left, Jamie Lee Hamilton, Maggie de Vries and Wayne Leng at Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver on Monday, February 27, 2012. ( Glenn Baglo / PNG ) ( For Suzanne Fournier / THE PROVINCE ) ( For Neal Hall / VANCOUVER SUN )VANCOUVER , BC: FEBRUARY 27, 2012 -- Witness panel, from left, Jamie Lee Hamilton, Maggie de Vries and Wayne Leng at Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver on Monday, February 27, 2012. ( Glenn Baglo / PNG ) ( For Suzanne Fournier / THE PROVINCE ) ( For Neal Hall / VANCOUVER SUN )

Photograph by: GLENN BAGLO, PNG

Activist Jamie Lee Hamilton testified at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry that sex trade workers displaced into the “killing fields” of the Downtown Eastside in the mid-1980s lost their trust in police who became enforcers rather than protectors.

The Commission, at the first of a series of panels, heard emotional evidence Monday from Hamilton, sex worker client and then Missing Women website master Wayne Leng and also from Maggie de Vries.

De Vries, a teacher and children’s book author, also wrote a book about her sister Sarah de Vries, who entered the downtown street life and the sex trade as a very young teen. Sarah, of mixed black, Mexican and indigenous heritage, was fleeing racism and cruelty from other kids that she experienced in West Point Grey and felt excitement and belonging in the street community, Maggie told the Commission.

A prolific writer and poet, Sarah wrote in a poem included in Maggie’s book that she wasn’t accepted by either Caucasian or black society. “I have no people, I have no nation and I am alone,” wrote Sarah.

The Commission also viewed a chilling 1993 CBC five-minute interview in which Sarah shoots up heroin on-camera but warns others to “stay away” from heroin addiction.

Sarah got caught up in heroin addiction while involved in the dangerous DTES sex trade and disappeared at age 29, in 1998. A well-loved and respected resident of the DTES, Sarah had strong ties to her friends, family and her two children and could not have disappeared on her own. Her disappearance galvanized family and friends who searched tirelessly, put up posters about Sarah and other missing women and called on the VPD to offer a reward for information on who was preying on the women.

De Vries said that only three years ago, after her book was published, she learned that Sarah appeared to have been repeatedly victimized and sexually abused as young as eight or nine years old, by a pedophile who lived near her family home in West Point Grey.

Maggie de Vries also related a horrific incident in which Sarah was raped and almost killed by a man from whom she escaped, almost naked, in a Vancouver suburb, sometime in the early 1990s. Sarah made her way to a police station where she was humiliated and given no help. Hitchhiking, she was picked up by another, unrelated assailant who also tried to sexually assault her and finally by a kindly cabdriver, who drove her home.

De Vries and Hamilton agreed that police in that case lost “a very precious moment,” by throwing away a chance to help a desperate young woman who never again would trust police. “She shared that story . . . warning about a man who beat her almost to death,” said de Vries. Sarah also learned, tragically, “that you can’t trust police to help you even if you’re a victim of extreme violence, if you look like a prostitute,”said Maggie. “She learned it was better to go out to the highway and stick out her thumb than turn to police.”

Hamilton said all police agencies must learn to respond promptly to vulnerable women. “It’s very important for the police to respond appropriately, give her a blanket, a safe space, bring in a female officer. How do you explain to a male officer that you’ve just been violated?”

Hamilton, who entered sex work at age 15, in 1971”, at the corner of Georgia and Granville and then in the West End, said that until a 1984 court injunction forced sex workers to the isolated and dangerous eastside, police were either “protective” or just left working women alone.

“Women had worked in clusters and had a good relationship with police before but then we were displaced to dangerous, isolated areas, we couldn’t protect each other and the police just dumped us there and did nothing to protect women,” said Hamilton, referring to the zone north of Hastings St. as well as the Downtown Eastside.

Trust broke down between women on the streets and the Vancouver police as “a different kind of violent customer” began to prey unchecked on women who increasingly used hard drugs to cope, Hamilton told an intently listening Commissioner Wally Oppal.

“Many women turned to drugs, who before the 1984 injunction (clearing sex workers out of residential areas) weren’t involved with drugs,”said Hamilton. “I lost many friends to drugs and then in the late 80s, early 90s women started disappearing and some, like Cheryl Ann Joe, were found brutally murdered.”

Sex workers set up what Hamilton called a “meaningful dialogue” with the VPD that met as often as once a week, at the Dufferin Hotel, but at the same time, she said “there was a lot of mistrust because police were enforcing a law that turned us into criminals.”

The VPD also was “in denial” about the soaring numbers of women going missing in the Downtown Eastside, said Hamilton. But she said that when she tried to provide a safe place for sex trade workers to do business and get food and clothing, by opening Grandma’s House at Princess and East Hastings Street, the VPD shut the house down, calling it a brothel.

Both de Vries and Hamilton said the VPD has reached out recently to women in the Downtown Eastside with a female sex trade liaison officer and regular neighbourhood meetings, but much more has to be done.

Oppal has said he hopes the panels will help him write meaningful recommendations in his final report, due in June 2012. His inquiry is looking into why it took the VPD and Coquitlam RCMP so long to halt serial killer Robert Pickton, who killed as many as 49 women from 1991 until he was finally arrested in 2002.

sfournier@theprovince.com

© Copyright (c) The Province

http://www.theprovince.com/news/Panel+lament+police+role+change+from+worker+protectors+enforcers/6217816/story.html

Sunday, February 26

New panel format to start Monday in missing women inquiry

VANCOUVER/CKNW AM(980)
Marcella Bernardo | Email news tips to Marcella
2/26/2012

Monday marks the start of a new process at B.C.’s Missing Women inquiry.

Commissioner Wally Oppal is now hearing from witnesses in a panel, instead of through individual testimony. 

The surprising change was announced last Tuesday by Oppal, who must wrap up hearings at the end of April.

Concerns have been raised about delays – namely caused by lawyers demanding time to cross-examine each witness and sometimes stretching out one person's testimony to an entire week.

The first panel includes Wayne Leng – the man who initially reported missing women to Vancouver police, Maggie de Vries --whose sister, Sarah, disappeared in 1998, and long-time Downtown Eastside activist Jamie Lee Hamilton.

The brother of a woman whose DNA was found during a search of serial killer Robert Pickton's farm says he understands reasons for the panel format.

Ernie Crey says he still questions how the inquiry is being conducted, but the new process should be fairer and faster-paced.

"I just came through a long year's inquiry, the Cohen inquiry. It was actually held in the same building and in the same room and they followed the panel format and the lawyers still had plenty of time to examine witnesses, but things seem to be expedited using that format."

Crey adds he hopes the inquiry will include more stakeholders who've been excluded until now.

Oppal's final report and recommendations must be presented to the provincial government in June.

Thursday, February 23

'Wow. How did this happen?' commanding officer thought first day of Pickton farm search

BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 23, 2012 12:53 PM

Retired Coquitlam RCMP Supt. Ric Hall at Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver on Thursday, February 23, 2012.

Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, PNG

VANCOUVER -- The commanding officer of the Coquitlam RCMP detachment told the Missing Women inquiry today that he was shocked when he found out that police were searching the farm of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Former RCMP Supt. Ric Hall, who retired in 2005 after 40 years with the force, said he drove over to Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam the morning of Feb. 6, 2002.

"Wow. How did this happen?" he recalled thinking at the time, Hall told the inquiry.

"I found out there was a major investigation going on at the farm and I drove out there," he said.

"Clearly we had a major event happening in our detachment area," Hall testified.

""I think about this almost daily," he said.

"When I think about what I could have done better, I don't think I probably would have handled my people the same way."

He recalled a rookie Coquitlam RCMP officer, Const. Nathan Wells, had executed a search warrant the previous day to look for illegal weapons.

But Wells's search also found evidence related to the missing women investigation.

The search was halted until police could get another search warrant to investigate suspected homicides.

That search would continue for 18 months and became the largest forensic crime scene search in Canadian history.

The remains and DNA of 33 missing women were eventually found on Pickton's farm.

Hall is being questioned about the events that led up to the search.

He recalled Coquitlam RCMP worked with Vancouver police to investigate Pickton as a suspect after the VPD received a series of tips from informants starting in June 1998 - a month after Hall took over the job as the commanding officer of Coquitlam RCMP.

Hall recalled being told by Insp. Earl Moulton, who was in charge of operations, that Pickton was under investigation and a surveillance operation was planned.

Hall said he was later briefed that surveillance had produced nothing to carry the investigation forward.

The turning point in the Pickton investigation, Hall recalled, was a discussion he had in the summer of 1999 with Cpl. Frank Henley, who said there was nothing to believe about the information regarding Pickton.

Henley was with the provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit, which assisted Coquitlam investigator Cpl. Mike Connor in his investigation of Pickton.

Vancouver police had passed along information from informants that a woman named Lynn Ellingsen had witnessed Pickton butchering a woman in his barn one night.

Henley and another officer interviewed Ellingsen, who denied making statements to other about seeing Pickton butchering a woman.

"He said he did not believe the information to be true and they were going to go ahead with a cold interview with Pickton," Hall recalled of his conversation with Henley, whom Hall had worked with when they were both at Surrey RCMP.

Commission counsel Art Vertlieb asked Hall if he was aware that Connor had a completely different view - Connor felt Ellingsen was lying because Pickton was paying her to keep quiet.

"Mike Connor is very upset to this day about Henley's actions," Vertlieb pointed out about Connor's earlier testimony at the inquiry.

"I was not aware of it in 1999," Hall testified.

"At the time, no one came forward to me to present a dissenting view," he added.

He said Connor could have talked about it with Moulton and asked for more resources.

"Or he could have knocked on my door," Hall said.

Connor testified that Henley's assessment effectively killed the Pickton investigation.

Connor recalled he was promoted and was taken off the Pickton investigation. But even after that, he would sit outside Pickton's farm, hoping to catch him in the act.

More than a dozen women were killed by Pickton on the farm between 1997 and his arrest on Feb. 5, 2002.

Connor had investigated Pickton's 1997 knife attack on a Vancouver prostitute on the farm.

The woman had fought for her life and was repeatedly stabbed after Pickton slipped a handcuff on one of her wrists.

She slashed Pickton with the knife and fled to the street, where she flagged down a passing car.

She later died at hospital but was revived and survived.

Pickton was charged with attempted murder and unlawful confinement but the charges were dropped by the Crown in early 1999, days before the trial.

The inquiry, which will probe why the charges were stayed, has heard testimony that prosecutor Randi Connor felt the victim was an unreliable witness because she was a drug addict.

The inquiry won't sit Friday but will continue Monday with a new format - a discussion panel.

The first panel will include Wayne Leng, Maggie de Vries and Jamie Lee Hamilton, who were actively involved in trying to get police to investigate the growing number of women who were disappearing from the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Leng was a friend of Sarah de Vries, one of the missing women killed by Pickton.

Leng set up a website to coordinate information about the missing women and passed along tips from police from an informant, Bill Hiscox.

Sarah's sister, Maggie de Vries, lobbied Vancouver police, then Vancouver mayor Philip Owen and then attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh for more action on the missing women investigation.

Maggie de Vries wrote a book, Missing Sarah, about her experiences.

At the time, Vancouver police managers were in denial that a serial killer was preying on women.

The force kiboshed a draft press release that VPD Det.-Insp. Kim Rossmo wanted to issue, which included a public warning that a possible serial killer was on the loose.

Pickton was convicted of sex murders a his first trial in 2007.

After Pickton lost all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial on another 20 murder counts.

Pickton, now 63, confided to an undercover officer after his arrest that he killed 49 women.

nhall@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/this+happen+commanding+officer+thought+first+Pickton+farm+search/6199246/story.html

Top cop still wonders how he could have handled Pickton investigation better, inquiry hears

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE FEBRUARY 23, 2012 2:06 PM

Former RCMP Coquitlam Supt. Ric Hall also told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Feb. 23 that although he often ponders the disturbing case, he admits "I don't think I would have done anything differently" as a top manager.

Photograph by: Glenn Baglo, PNG

The "guy in charge" of the RCMP's Coquitlam detachment from 1998 to 2004 said he wonders "almost daily" how Robert Pickton's killing spree, unchecked from 1991 to 2002, was allowed to go on for so long.

But former RCMP Coquitlam Supt. Ric Hall also told the Missing Women Commission of Inquirythis morning that although he often ponders the disturbing case, he admits "I don't think I would have done anything differently" as a top manager.

"Everybody touched by this probably thinks about it every day...with this inquiry going on, it resonates with all of us,"said Hall, sounding slightly emotional after his matter-of-fact testimony.

"I was the guy in charge, ultimately responsible for the Coquitlam detachment... but when I think about what I could have done differently, I don't think I would have done anything differently," said Hall, who retired in 2002 after 40 years as a Mountie.

Hall said he was taught to run a detachment by leaving his investigators alone. "I ran the detachment in a way people had showed me to run it, not to stick my nose into investigations.

"Don't micro-manage, be there to help if they run into obstacles."

That approach left Hall standing on the Pickton farm, just down the road from his Coquitlam RCMP detachment, on the morning of Feb. 6, 2002, having just found out that an unrelated firearms search of the Pickton farm had swiftly discovered evidence of the Vancouver missing women.

"How did this happen?" Hall's said was his gut response at the time.

Pickton, who is convicted of killing six women but confessed to killing 49 women, came to Coquitlam RCMP attention in 1998 when solid informants, and even an eyewitness, came forward. Yet no one arrested Pickton until after the firearms search warrrant obtained on Feb. 5, 2002 revealed ample evidence of missing women.

The inquiry is also looking into why 1997 attempted-murder charges against Pickton, in connection with the near-fatal stabbing of a Downtown Eastside sex trade worker on his Port Coquitlam farm, were stayed by the Crown in 1998.

Hall testified that he didn't even know about the 1997 stabbing. He also didn't know that Coquitlam RCMP Sgt. Mike Connor, of his own detachment, worked very hard to get Pickton to trial in 1997. Nor did he know that Connor strongly believed that Pickton could be the serial killer responsible for dozens of women disappearing forever from Vancouver eastside streets. Connor was promoted and taken off the case.

"I stood on the Pickton farm on Feb. 6, 2002 wondering how this could have happened," confessed Hall. "I think about that almost daily, how can we have done this better?"

Hall admitted that his investigators did tell him that an eyewitness Lynn Ellingsen had told police in the summer of 1999 that she had witnessed Pickton gutting a woman in his barn.

"This was someone who saw a woman slaughtered and hanging on a hook, that's dramatic material to be investigating?" Hall was asked by Commission counsel Art Vertlieb.

"Yes," said Hall, but he agreed with Vertlieb there was "no system of followup"and that when his subordinates told him that Ellingsen had denied her story and refused to take a polygraph, Hall himself pursued it no further.

Hall said he had the impression that Coquitlam RCMP Insp. Earl Moulton did not believe Ellingsen and that apart from some surveillance, the Pickton matter had been dropped.

Hall said that he first heard the Pickton name on Jan. 4, 1998, after Coquitlam RCMP and the local fire department had shut down a huge New Year's Eve party at Piggy's Palace, a nearby property that Robert Pickton's brother Dave, nicknamed Piggy, had turned into an after-hours booze can. Hall said he thought the Picktons were "just a couple of rascals who liked to party and bring people out to party."

Hall said he had no idea that the Picktons regularly hosted bikers and sex-trade workers at those parties. Many off-duty police officers in the Lower Mainland also atttended those parties, but Hall said he never personally went to the Pickton farm or Piggy's Palace.

Hall agreed with Neil Chantler, the lawyer for 25 families of women whom Pickton is convicted of or suspected of killing on his arm, that he drove by the Pickton farm virtually daily on his way to work.

Although Hall agreed with Chantler that he was well-aware of the growing Vancouver crisis over dozens of women still going missing from the Downtown Eastside, and that he read the blizzard of media articles, Hall said he didn't in his own mind link that to Pickton.

'"Every time I drove by I didn't go to myself 'we have a serial killer living here,'" said Hall.

Asked by Chantler if the Pickton investigation "wasn't even on your radar," Hall responded: '"Fair statement."

Hall said he ''thought the (Pickton) investigation into a single incident (Ellingsen's witnessing of a slaughter in progress) had come to an end.

"Do you wish you had taken further steps" to take a proactive role in finding out whether Pickton was an active serial killer, Hall responded: "Knowing what I now know, yes."

But Hall stuck to his guns, denying to Chantler that he had a "fairly passive management style."

"I don't think that's a fair statement" said Hall, insisting that he ran a good detachment the way he'd been trained to do so. By the time he finally stood on the Pickton farm on Feb. 6, 2002, said Hall, all of his people "were very busy. They had families, media, they were trying to put up fences and secure the property." Then the investiation was run by the Joint Missing Women Task Force of Vancouver police and RCMP, headed by former RCMP Inspector Don Adam.

Adam's evidence at the inquiry has been interrupted but he is expected to return.

Next week, Commissioner Oppal has announed that the inquiry will move into a "less adversarial approach," by mounting panel discussions with community and family members, First Nations leaders, researchers and members of the policing community. Speakers still be under oath and the inquiry also will call more single witnesses before it wraps up formal hearings at the end of April.

Next Monday the first panel will be made up of Maggie de Vries, the sister of Pickton murder victim Sarah de Vries; Wayne Leng, the man who put up posters after Sarah went missing in1999 and still runs a missing women website; as well as activist Jamie Lee Hamilton.

Lawyer Jason Gratl, acting for Downtown Eastside groups, stood up at the inquiry just before noon to "urgently" demand VPD files from 2000 when police shut down Hamilton's Grandma's House, a resource for sex-trade workers that police considered a brothel.

Oppal's final report is due at the end of June, 2012.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Canada: missing women inquiry casts doubt on police work

Families of the women murdered by Robert Pickton hold memorial marches in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver. Published on

February 23, 2012

GlobalPost (http://www.globalpost.com)

Home > Canada: missing women inquiry casts doubt on police work


Bilbo Poynter:

By GlobalPost Writer

Created 1969-12-31 19:00

HAMILTON, Ontario — Thousands marched in cities across Canada earlier this month to remember missing and murdered women, just as new questions are arising over the police’s failure to catch one of the country’s most notorious serial killers.

The marchers, many of them family members of the victims, carried candles in vigils in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver to remember the missing — often women who lived on the margins of society.

Some of the killings happened decades ago but the families’ sorrow and anger still are raw.

“The outrage is with the police — mostly,” said Wayne Leng, a mechanic who zealously runs several blogs on the subject, including missingpersons.net [2].

The first memorial march took place 21 years ago in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood. Only a few blocks radius, the area hosts open drug markets and the dubious distinction of being Canada’s “poorest postal code.” This is where women — dozens of them — started going missing as far back as the late ‘70s.

Read more: Where are Canada's missing women? [3]

Then in the ‘90s, a new cluster of missing cases provoked friends and families to gather in a Downtown Eastside park. Now vigils take place every Valentine’s Day.

For years the police proved incapable of stopping the killer, Robert Pickton, a pig farmer from British Columbia’s lower mainland.

Pickton was finally arrested in 2002 and convicted in 2007 of murdering six of the missing women from the Downtown Eastside in one of the most drawn-out and expensive murder trials in Canadian history. But he confessed to killing as many as 49.

Many Canadians have long held that the police turned a blind eye to the crimes because the women were mostly drug-addicts and worked as prostitutes.

“If six dogs from the neighborhood had disappeared, there would have been more done," Kathleen Hallmark-McClelland told a Vancouver Province newspaper reporter in 2002. Hallmark-McClelland’s daughter Helen disappeared in 1997.

Now, after years of dreary vigils and frigid prairie ceremonies, another drama has been unfolding almost daily in a Vancouver courtroom that drew fresh anger from those assembled at the memorials.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry got underway last October with a mandate to look into alleged inaction by police that enabled Pickton to kill with impunity for several years before his arrest.

More from Canada: Honor killings on trial [4]

The high-profile inquiry was controversial even before it began.

Most of the organizations that seek standing at the commission withdrew in protest in the weeks leading up to the inquiry’s start. They were angry that the commission would not provide public funds for their participation, and because of a pervasive view among the groups that the inquiry would be weighted toward the government and police findings.

There were protests, too, over the appointment of Wally Oppal as commission chair. Oppal, years before, while he was top lawmaker in British Columbia, had said that such an inquiry was not necessary.

Oppal was also in the top law job when 20 of the 26 murder charges against Pickton were dropped.

The commission has made public startling revelations about the failure on the part of two police departments, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Vancouver Police, to stop the killer.

Some of the recent highlights from the inquiry include:

The lawyer representing a number of the families of Pickton’s victims in early February accused the commission of “enabling” a cover-up. Oppal shot back that there is “no evidence” of a cover-up.

The lawyer, Cameron Ward, also accused police and the commission of withholding reams of files considered crucial to the case. He claims the files would establish how investigators had a predator in their sights for years but failed to act in a mix of incompetence, indifference and jurisdictional wrangling between the RCMP and Vancouver Police.

More from Canada: Transgender Canadians barred from flights [5]

The commission has heard how Pickton was brought to the attention of police investigators as a prime suspect as early as 1998.

Pickton encouraged investigators to search his farm in 2000 — police did not take him up on that offer. Years later, scores of DNA matches and articles of clothing and ID belonging to dozens of missing women, along with human remains, were found on Pickton’s property.

Police also dismissed key witnesses because of their criminal background.

Leng, the mechanic turned blogger, first became involved after reporting his friend Sarah de Vries missing from the Downtown Eastside in 1998. Though her DNA was found on Pickton’s farm, he was never tried over her disappearance or death.

Leng was anxious to be back in Vancouver and pass by de Vries’ last known address and attend the inquiry the week of the memorials. He said the families in attendance are quite discouraged, but feel their lawyers are doing the best they can.

“I don’t think the police did enough. They should have had Pickton a long time ago,” Leng said.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry continues this week and is expected to wrap up by the summer 2012. Some preliminary reports from the commission can be viewed here [6].

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/canada/120222/canada-missing-women-inquiry-robert-pickton

Copyright 2012 GlobalPost – International News


Source URL (retrieved on 2012-02-23 09:54): http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/canada/120222/canada-missing-women-inquiry-robert-pickton

Links:
[1] http://www.globalpost.com/news/regions/americas/canada
[2] http://www.missingpeople.net
[3] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/canada/120116/canada-missing-women
[4] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/canada/111220/canada-honor-killings-trial
[5] http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/canada/120210/transgender-ban-flying-air-canada
[6] http://www.missingwomeninquiry.ca/reports-and-publications

Wednesday, February 22

Probe moves to a 'less-adversarial' panel approach

Goal is to be more inclusive but not everyone is happy with change in format

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINC EFEBRUARY 22, 2012

Missing women commissioner Wally Oppal announced Tues-day that after 52 days of hearings in which two dozen witnesses took the stand, he will switch to a "less-adversarial" panel approach as soon as next week.

Oppal hopes community and First Nations people will be "more willing to come forward and participate" in a "more co-operative" approach.

The announcement came just as the ranks of top criminal lawyers swelled to more than 21, all paid out of the public purse, and rising often at the inquiry to defend VPD officers, the police union and police board, as well as the RCMP.

Robert Pickton, who confessed to killing 49 women, is thought to have started his killing spree in 1991 but wasn't arrested until February 2002.

Oppal said it is "critical" he assess "the magnitude of harms caused to families and community beyond the crime[s] of Robert Pickton."

"My commitment to the safety and security of women, especially marginalized ones, has never wavered," Oppal said. "I am determined to ensure that these women did not die in vain and that positive change resulting in the saving of lives will be the lasting memorial for the missing and murdered women."

Panel members will speak under oath and some witnesses will still take the stand, said commission counsel Art Vertlieb.

"The commissioner wants to write a report that won't stay on a shelf, but will actually help save the lives of marginalized women at risk right now in the Downtown Eastside," Vertlieb said.

The inquiry's new format came as a "shock" to some victims' families.

"Mr. Oppal is just trying to save time and money by getting a lot of witnesses on at once. We came for a public inquiry and we're not getting one," said Lilliane Beaudoin, the sister of Pickton victim Dianne Rock.

The inquiry released four major reports Tuesday, including a report into municipal policing in the Lower Mainland and one on the protection of vulnerable women. They can be found at missingwomeninquiry. ca. A final report is due in June.

sfournier@theprovince.com twitter.com/suzannefournier

© Copyright (c) The Province

Tuesday, February 21

Ceremony to honour victimized women brings police, First Nations together

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE FEBRUARY 21, 2012 8:06 PM

Families of the missing and murdered women, hundreds of First Nations leaders and the RCMP commissioner all took part in a powerful "cedar bough cleansing" ceremony at a national justice forum in Vancouver Tuesday.

Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG

Families of missing and murdered women, over 500 First Nations leaders and Canada’s top RCMP commissioner all took part in a powerful “cedar bough cleansing” ceremony at a national justice forum in Vancouver Tuesday.

Two rows of large colour photos of more than 60 missing women, lit by candles, were surrounded first by their loved ones, then encircled by men taking up the challenge to “protect and support” women and girls.

The ceremony launched a three-day “national justice forum” by the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s largest national aboriginal group, at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver.

Squamish Chief Ian Campbell, known as Xalek, called on male leaders “to honour and respect the lifegivers in our community” and help prevent the ongoing disappearance and death of hundreds of native women across Canada.

Campbell drummed and sang as Salish women dressed in traditional blankets and cedar hats and headbands slowly moved around the huge Bayshore Hotel ballroom, “brushing off” everyone with cedar, water, smoke and red ochre.

New RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, along with RCMP Chief Supt. Brenda Butterworth-Carr and Assistant RCMP Commissioner Russ Mirasty from the provincial missing persons task force, all stood to be brushed with cedar.

Paulson later repeated the RCMP apology of just two weeks ago, “expressing the regret of the RCMP that for not arresting Robert Pickton much sooner.”

After a solemn hour-long ceremony, Campbell told the 500 quiet people, “The (missing and murdered) ladies are here with us today.

“They’re looking at us. They need to know we’re OK, that it’s OK for them to move on now (to the spirit world.)”

Gary Silcott, 16, stood in front of a photo of his mother Tanya Holyk, a Pickton victim, with tears coursing down his face. “This is the first time I’ve ever met my mother and I definitely felt her presence here today.

“I was just stuck in one spot, talking to my mom and she was saying it’s OK. I was only nine months old when she disappeared. It was healing for me.”

Lorelei Williams, 31, who lost two close relatives including her aunt Belinda Williams, an unsolved case since 1978, and her cousin Holyk to Pickton, said the ceremony was “very, very emotional, like a funeral but in a good way.”

Lorelei and a dozen other women, many of them among the at least 75 children left behind by missing or murdered mothers, are learning a choreographed dance to commemorate the missing and celebrate young women.

The AFN, which speaks for 800,000 aboriginal people in 633 communities, is working with the RCMP on a national protocol to address the fact that aboriginal people are disproportionately likely to become victims of violence.

Paulson said he supports a new national system to track “missing First Nations girls, women and men” through CPIC, the Canadian Police Information Centre. He emphasized one of his first priorities as Canada’s top cop is to address the missing women issue.

Paulson said he “supports the work of the (Oppal Missing Women Commission of) Inquiry” and “will have much more to say when the inquiry makes its recommendations.”

In the meantime, said Paulson, he will work with the AFN and other aboriginal groups to liaise with appointed RCMP contacts in every province.

National AFN Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo decried “the critical situation of violence, disappearance and murder of countless First Nations women and girls.”

The Native Women’s Association estimates about 600 aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada in the last 20 years, Atleo noted.

Atleo said that while he supports the work of the Oppal inquiry, its increasingly police-dominated hearings “show why we need a Royal Commission, a national inquiry into violence against aboriginal children, women and men, that is aboriginal-led or receives input from First Nations.”

The national justice forum has pledged to drawn up “a national action plan to end violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada” and is developing a national missing kids and child protection strategy as well.

sfournier@theprovince.com

© Copyright (c) The Province

Missing Women Inquiry: Ex-Picton worker echoes lawyer allegations of police cover-up

David P. Ball  |  Feb 21st, 2012

Prompted to remember serial killer Robert Pickton's pig farm, Bill Hiscox pauses only for a second, adjusting his blue baseball cap, before he calmly describes his time as Pickton's employee and his stilted efforts to become a police informant in 1998. Four years later, Pickton would be arrested by a rookie cop unconnected to the investigation. 

Hiscox and several lawyers connected to the case allege a cover-up or even conspiracy related to the police's botched investigation, particularly given extensive Hell's Angels links to the Pickton farm.

The 52-year-old warehouse worker – now living in Alberta in an attempt to put his former boss' gruesome murders behind him, “to get far away from all of this” – sat down with the Vancouver Observer for a lengthy interview. He remembered Pickton's farm vividly – and why he and his sister-in-law had a correct hunch that women were being killed there. 

“There was something not right there,” Hiscox recalled over lunch at a White Spot restaurant, during a break from the Inquiry. “You can't put your finger on it, but it's there. It's kind of a really weird feeling – kind of a turning, wrenching feeling – where you know something's wrong.

“Did you ever see the movie Sixth Sense, where they see dead people? It's almost like people were trying to reach out, 'Oh, we're here.' That's the kind of feeling you got. That's exactly how it felt, it was really weird walking there.”

But to this day, Hiscox's story has not been heard in court – and despite being invited to be interviewed last week for a potential affidavit submission in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, he has been so far rejected from the witness list despite first-hand experience of the botched police investigation and a two-month standing request from Inquiry lawyers. 

Hiscox began working with Pickton in the spring of 1998, helping salvage materials from the demolished King George Motel in Surrey. Like others who knew Pickton, he described the serial killer – convicted of six second-degree murders, although he confessed to a police interrogator he had killed 49 women – as “unsociable” and quiet. But as someone introverted himself, Hiscox didn't hold it against him.

In fact, what disturbed him most were stories he began to hear from his sister-in-law, Lisa Yelds – Pickton's best friend at the time – about Aboriginal status cards and bloody women's clothing she said she saw inside Pickton's trailer.

“I saw clothing piled up outside the trailer – women's blouses and that sort of thing,” Hiscox said. “Not clean, not bloody – just dirty. It was around the corner of the trailer.

“I put the information together when me and Lisa were talking about what she was finding and what I was seeing. We sat and talked about it, in 1998. She said, 'I've got a feeling that's where all the women are going, Bill.' And I said, 'I'm getting the same feeling, as well.' She said that someone has to go to the police with this.”

A few months after starting salvage work for Pickton, Hiscox was walking in Surrey when he saw a disturbing poster on a telephone pole. It was for Sarah de Vries, one of Vancouver's many missing women, most of them Indigenous sex trade workers from the Downtown Eastside.

The poster was one of many plastered around the Lower Mainland by de Vries' friend, Wayne Leng. Like Hiscox, Leng journeyed from Alberta to Vancouver last week to attend the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry as well as the annual memorial march for missing and murdered women, which this year drew roughly 5,000 people.

Hiscox phoned the number on the poster and spoke to Leng.
Since de Vries' disappearance, Leng has campaigned unceasingly for police to investigate missing women cases with greater urgency. Leng recorded his conversation with Hiscox and passed on the tip to the Vancouver Police Department's Det. Cst. Lori Shenher, who testified last week at the inquiry.

“Wayne Leng received a call from male (later identified as Hiscox) who provided information that Willie Pickton had bragged about being able to dispose of bodies and grind them up for feed for his pigs on his property in Port Coquitlam,” according to a summary of Det. Shenher's source log marked July 27, 1998, submitted as an inquiry exhibit. “The caller told of a female named Lisa Yelds who had been in Pickton's trailer and seen women's identification and clothing.”

But after several initial calls and meetings between Shenher and Hiscox in September 1998, as recorded in Det. Shenher's log, contact ceased in mid-October. Shenher wrote that he told her “Pickton wants to 'finish off' Ms. Anderson,” the pseudonym for a woman Pickton handcuffed and stabbed in his trailer in 1997, but who escaped – only to see attempted murder charges against the farmer dropped.

“(Hiscox) heard from Yelds that Pickton has ordered a bunch of syringes and wants half of them new and half of them used,” Det. Shenher wrote. “Yelds did not know why he wanted them as Pickton is not an IV user but told Hiscox that Pickton wants to find Ms. Anderson and that the syringes were in some way related to her.”

In fact, after Pickton's arrest, syringes full of windshield fluid – some bearing human DNA – were discovered in his trailer, presumably used to murder people. Why Hiscox was not accepted as an undercover informant is still unclear – some officers on the stand suggested he was hard to get a hold of, and Det. Shenher's log shows a handfull of missed calls and meetings. But Det. Shenher saw it differently.

“He had shown himself to be someone who would contact me if he had something new,” Det. Shenher said on the Inquiry stand. “Secondly, I didn’t want to push him on [an undercover operation] because he was in recovery himself and he had indicated to me at varying times that he was trying to stay away from that world.”

However, Hiscox had a different story.

“I can knock holes in Shehner's statements easily,” he said. “I want to be put on the stand, because I've got something to say.

“Shehner said I disappeared for four years – but they've got documented proof that she talked to me right up until 1999. I was a drug addict and an alcoholic, I was in and out of rehab and on probation – don't tell me you couldn't find me.”

To this day, Hiscox does not know why contact with him was abandoned in 1999, nor why police turned his alleged offer to be an agent.
“I was willing to go inside – I was more than willing, and more than happy, to do whatever it took to stop this guy,” he said. “I went as far as to suggest they put a wire on me.

“'If you guys are too chicken to do this shit, I'll go do it for you' – I told them that. They were willing to do that. They had the break right in front of them. What were they waiting for?”

Hiscox's only explanation is that police believed he had become inappropriately interested in Det. Shenher – something he denies.
“It was mentioned that I was infatuated with Shenher, that it was more than just a friend relationship,” he said. “That's bullshit if that's why she didn't want to come look for me.

“Shenher was just nice to me – and when someone's nice to me, I tend to be nice back. That's the way it was, and that was the extent of the relationship. I phoned her up a couple times after Willie was arrested and tried to share some more information with her. Subsequently, I was phoned back by the RCMP saying, 'Any more contact with Shenher and you're going to be charged with harassment.' There was no harassment.”
Det. Shenher made no mention of harassment on the witness stand during her testimony. But families of several women whose DNA was found on Pickton's farm want Hiscox to testify himself so police can answer for the alleged inconsistencies.

“If Bill (Hiscox) gets on the stand, it will be the first time that someone says the truth in quite a few weeks,” said Lori-Ann Ellis, whose 26-year old sister-in-law Cara's DNA was found on Pickton's farm. “In the last few weeks, we've only heard from the cops.

“Now we're going to hear the truth from someone who dealt with it. We need that. We don't just need cops, we need who they talked to as well.”
Ultimately, both Hiscox and Ellis believe that Pickton neither acted alone in all the murders, nor that police simply erred in their investigation of him. Last Monday, Commissioner Wally Oppal rebuffed lawyer Cameron Ward – who represents Ellis and several dozen other murdered women's families in the Inquiry – after he said, “I fear this commission is enabling a cover-up to be perpetrated on the public by the police interests.”
The lawyer for the VPD, Tim Dixon, condemned Ward's accusations as “spurious … The allegations of a police cover up are completely unfounded.”

On the stand today, the VPD's police chief at the time, Chief Cst. Terry Blythe, responded in turn to the cover-up allegations: "I do find it offensive (given) all the good work we did and the commitment we made to this troubled neighbourhood."

Earlier this month, Oppal also overruled lawyer Jason Gratl – who represents Downtown Eastside interests in the Inquiry – for questioning police on the extensive connections between the Picktons and the Hell's Angels organized crime gang. Robert's brother Dave was an alleged member of the gang; police knew of a Hell's Angels building across the road from the pig farm; and gang members frequented the Picktons' illicit nightclub, Piggy's Palace, revealed RCMP homicide investigator Mike Connor in his Inquiry testimony.

Investigators searching the Pickton farm found 80 unidentified DNA profiles there – approximately half of them male – and Connor stated that he never investigated a tip that a murdered male Hell's Angel member was on the farm. 

“They're covering up a lot of stuff, and I just can't fathom some of the things being said here in this Inquiry,” Hiscox told the Vancouver Observer. “The truth will set you free – we'll see what happens.”
Was Robert “Willie” Pickton acting alone?

“I don't believe it one bit, no,” Hiscox said. “Dave, his brother, lived on the farm. How the hell can you live on a farm with this guy Willie, your brother, and not know what he was doing all these years? Don't tell me you don't know.

“Why has this one person got immunity? Why haven't we heard from Dave in the trial or here in the Inquiry? We've never heard a peep from him. I think there's a lot more than meets the eye.”

In December, the Vancouver Observer was the first to report alleged sightings of Dave Pickton by sex workers in the Downtown Eastside, which were more recently reported by national newspapers. However, Dave was neither called to testify at his brother's murder trial, nor in the current Inquiry.

Both the Vancouver Police Department, and more recently the RCMP, have apologized to murdered women's families and friends for delays in arresting Pickton, acknowledging women could have been saved had he been caught earlier.

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Statement by Art Vertlieb, Commission Counsel

The Vancouver Sun

February 21, 2012

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is and always has been about saving lives. It is a unique opportunity to change the way we police our streets and investigate violent crimes against vulnerable and marginalized women currently at risk in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and across British Columbia.

Our mandate is to inquire into the conduct of police investigations of women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002, and to review the decision by the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998 to stop legal proceedings against Robert William Pickton on charges of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault.

The work we have done over the past few months to meet our mandate has helped us understand what went wrong and why. This process will continue as we hear from more witnesses in the weeks ahead.

The inquiry's 52 days of hearings so far have produced valuable information. Having lawyers for the participants cross examine witnesses in an adversarial process has been a necessary and important component and has already answered many of the questions we had about how the police investigation was conducted.

We have heard from family members and community leaders, from expert witnesses who provided context, from RCMP and VPD officers who conducted their own internal investigations, from Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans, who reviewed the case files and interviewed investigating officers, and from some of the lead investigators themselves. In addition, Commission staff has reviewed more than 150,000 pages of documentation related to the investigation.

The Commissioner now has a clear picture of the chronology of events and has heard evidence of the systemic shortcomings that contributed to the failure of the police investigation.

Today, the Commissioner announced that starting next week, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will begin hearing from some of the remaining witnesses in panel form. Hearing from witnesses in panels is a common and beneficial process for public inquiries.

Under this format, the Commissioner will invite input from panels of witnesses representing different interest groups, including the families, the Downtown Eastside Community, Aboriginal women, civic interests and police forces. Today, he asked Aboriginal leaders and other community leaders to help him develop this panel process.

We will still be calling individual witnesses where issues of the credibility of their evidence may be in question, and counsel for participants will be able to cross examine them as has been happening up to now.

The panels on the other hand, will be a dialogue among participants who will be encouraged to share their experiences and insights. The panels will be a forum for generating ideas on how to protect vulnerable women and save lives.

We believe this approach will provide witnesses with another opportunity to contribute constructively and positively to our work by telling their stories and making suggestions that will help the Commissioner develop practical and effective recommendations for change.

The hearings will continue to be open to the media and the public and we encourage individuals who have important information to contribute to come forward and participate.

In addition to this new format, the Commissioner will initiate and facilitate a dialogue forum of representatives of the police, the families, civic officials and the community to work with him and the Commission staff to develop process recommendations for implementing his report and working together in the future.

I want to stress that the Commissioner's objective is to make recommendations necessary to help save the lives of marginalized women at risk right now in the Downtown Eastside and in communities throughout British Columbia where women continue to go missing and where unresolved homicides may be the work of a serial killer.

At the end of the day, this Commission cannot eradicate serial killers from our society, but it can and will help ensure that serial killers are identified and stopped far sooner than appears to have happened in the Pickton case. It will help save lives.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Missing Women inquiry to take new direction and hold public forums

BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 21, 2012 2:59 PM

The Missing Women Inquiry is headed by Wally Oppal.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, PNG

VANCOUVER - The Missing Women inquiry wants to reach out to the community and hold panels to assist in making recommendations to help to save lives of vulnerable women.

Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal made the announcement today at the inquiry.

He said the inquiry has gathered valuable information during its 53 days of hearings since Oct. 11 last year about the failures of the police investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton.

But the inquiry had to make do-able recommendations and now wants to hear from the community in a less adversarial process, so has decided to hold a series of panel discussions starting next week.

"To this end I am asking aboriginal leaders and other community leaders to assist in developing a process whereby this can occur," Oppal said.

He said he also wants to hear the relationship between the community and police can be improved in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES).

"I need to gain a better understanding of what will be required to build trust and a positive police-community relationship in the DTES," Oppal said.

And he wants to hear from the families of Pickton's victims about how to improve the safety and security of vulnerable women.

"My commitment to the safety and security of women, especially marginalized ones, has never wavered," he said.

"I am determined to ensure that these women did not die in vain and that positive change resulting in saving lives will be a lasting memorial for the murdered and missing women," Oppal said.

He also said policy forums will be held in early May.

Oppal must submit his report to government by the end of June, a six-month extension granted by government last year.

After Oppal made the announcement Tuesday at the inquiry, commission counsel Art Vertlieb said the inquiry will continue to hear some witnesses in an adversarial setting, where witnesses are subjected to cross-examination by lawyers representing police, the victims' families and other parties.

But the commissioner wants panel participants to be involved in a dialogue to encourage ideas and insights into how to save lives of sex trade workers and other vulnerable women.

He pointed out that the inquiry already held community forums in seven northern communities along Highway 16, often called the Highway of Tears because so many teens and young women have disappeared or were found murdered along the highway.

"At the end of the day," Vertlieb said, "this commission cannot eradicate serial killers from our society, but it can and will help ensure serial killers are identified and stopped far sooner than appears to have happened in the Pickton case."

The victims families said Oppal's announcement about moving to panels took them by surprise.

"We're shocked and concerned," said Lori-Ann Ellis, the sister-in-law of one of Pickton's victims, Cara Ellis.

She said the victims' families are unsure what the new development will effectively mean.

"The familIes need to hear from the individuals involved," added Lilliane Beaudoin, the sister of Dianne Rock, one of Pickton's victims.

The inquiry is continuing today with the cross-examination of former Vancouver police chief Terry Blythe, who retired in September 2002.

Earlier in the day, the lawyer representing Blythe demanded an apology for his client over assertions made that there had been a "cover-up" by Vancouver police.

''I demand that apology now," Toronto lawyer Eddie Greenspan told Oppal.

Greenspan accused lawyer Cameron Ward of making improper inflammatory statements by suggesting the police department was involved in a coverup by suppressing documents at the inquiry about the investigation of Pickton.

"In my respectful submission, he's crossed the line miserably," Greenspan said of Ward, who is representing the families of 25 missing and murdered women.

"He has no evidence to offer [of a coverup]," Blythe's lawyer said.

"This is an inflammatory statement," Greenspan said. "The tactic shouldn't be allowed...It has to have some basis in reality."

Greenspan suggested Ward's assertion of a conspiracy to interfere in the administration of justice was intolerable and amounted to "McCarthyism."

At issue was Ward's assertion that while Blythe was police chief in 2002, after Pickton was finally arrested, a memo was issued requesting that all officers retain any relevant documents related to the Pickton investigation, which the VPD began in July 1998.

Ward has maintained that Blythe had a duty to make sure documents, including emails, be preserved.

But Ward maintains that some documents were destroyed and others have been suppressed by the VPD and the RCMP.

Ward said he has asked that Darcy Sarra, who was tasked with collecting the VPD's documents, be called as a witness and suggested she is a "reliable" witness to the fact that not all documents and police notes were preserved.

Vertlieb told the inquiry that counsel staff has not yet interviewed Sarra but plans to do so.

He added that Ward and co-counsel Neil Chantler also had not interviewed Sarra.

Ward told the inquiry today that the document disclosure by the VPD and RCMP has been "woefully inadequate" and sparked comment from Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans, who was asked by the inquiry to do an independent review of the police investigations of Pickton.

Ward pointed out that Evans said she had no confidence that all police documents had been disclosed, which she described as "ridiculous."

Ward pointed out that no police notes have been disclosed from 17 VPD officers involved in the Pickton investigation.

"I'm not going to apologize for anything I've said or done at this proceeding," Ward told Oppal.

"My position is that both police forces have failed to provide documents to this commission." he said.

Oppal said it was his job to decide what is relevant,

"You thought Robert Pickton would be a relevant witness," Oppal told Ward, adding that commission staff went and interview Pickton in prison and he claimed he was innocent.

Blythe testified today that he didn't know Pickton was being investigated by Vancouver police until one or two weeks before Pickton's arrest in 2002.

Blythe pointed out that he was initially deputy chief in charge of the patrol division.

He said Brian McGuinness was the deputy chief in charge of operations, including investigations.

Blythe was Vancouver police chief from July 1999 until September 2002, when he retired after 33 years with the force.

The inquiry, which is probing why Pickton wasn't caught sooner, has heard that Vancouver police received tips from informants beginning in July 1998 and into 1999, suggesting Pickton may be responsible for the dozens of women sex trade workers who were disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

More than a dozen women were killed between 1997 and Pickton's arrest on Feb. 5, 2002.

Pickton had been charged in 1997 with a knife attack on a Vancouver prostitute who survived.

The charges were dropped in early 1998 because the Crown felt the victim, a drug addict, was unreliable.

The inquiry will later probe why the charges were stayed by the Crown.

During a 18-month search of Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam, police found the remains and DNA of 33 women.

Pickton confided to an undercover officer after his arrest that he killed 49 women.

He was convicted at his first trial in 2007 of six murders.

The Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial, involving another 20 murder counts, after Pickton lost all his appeals.

nhall@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun