Friday, November 29

Missing Women inquiry slammed

No scrutiny of police: Lawyer Darrell Roberts says review was 'a failure of major proportions'


Lawyer Darrell Roberts has written a stinging legal paper slamming Missing Women inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal's year-old report.

Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press, Vancouver Sun

A respected B.C. lawyer who represented a victim's family at the Missing Women inquiry has produced a stinging legal paper slamming commissioner Wally Oppal's year-old report.

In a presentation Monday to an audience of lawyers and judges - including Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin - Darrell Roberts said the review of the police handling of Robert Pickton's serial killings was a "failure of major proportions."

He said the former attorney general and B.C. Court of Appeal justice failed to address a key element in his 2010 mandate - findings of fact about the conduct of the police investigations.

"Oppal called his report, The Forsaken," Roberts said. "He did the forsaking."

In future, he recommended the Attorney General's office supervise such inquiries to ensure they do what they are intended to do.

"Since all of the missing and murdered women were from Vancouver's Downtown East the Eastside and were picked up while engaged in the sex trade on the east side streets and transported elsewhere (to Pickton's property in Coquitlam), one might have expected that a major focus if not the focus of the inquiry and the commissioner's findings of fact in The Forsaken would be the conduct of the VPD in their police investigations," Roberts said in his 60-page paper.

"However, this is not the case. The commissioner neither made it a major focus of The Forsaken, nor made any findings of fact as to the crime or crimes the VPD investigated or ought to have investigated in the disappearance of the missing women, or of the VPD conduct in relation to such failed investigations."

The Vancouver litigator, who is preparing to argue two separate cases before the Supreme Court of Canada, maintained the $10-million commission was "a huge underachievement."

Roberts contended Oppal accepted without proper scrutiny the police department's internal review prepared by Deputy Chief Doug LePard. "But, the facts, as well as the purpose and main terms of reference in the inquiry order, cries out for the inquiry to address what the VPD did or did not do in Vancouver in investigating the disappearance

and murder of the missing women," he insisted.

Roberts said LePard's evidence was a "mishmash" and his answers "only helpful to show his incompetence."

The lawyer said from 1997 through 2002 - the period of Pickton's killing spree covered by the inquiry - the VPD persistently failed to investigate the kidnapping and murder of the women. He said it failed because its officers, including thenchief constable Terry Blythe, "were ill-informed on the law of kidnapping ... they did not know or recognize how the crime of kidnapping applied to the missing women."

Had they done so, in Roberts' view, a search warrant for the pig farm could have been obtained earlier and damning evidence discovered. The DNA of 33 women was found on the property after police executed a search warrant in Feb. 2002. Pickton claims to have slain 49 women.

During the inquiry, Roberts represented Marion Bryce, mother of Patricia Johnson, who vanished in the spring of 2001 and was almost immediately reported missing.

Her remains were found on the farm and, though Pickton was charged with her murder, Johnson's case was one of 20 stayed last year after the infamous killer exhausted appeals of his six second-degree murder convictions.

Rather than focus on police misconduct, which he acknowledged included "irresponsible failure to act and wilful blindness," Oppal chose to address more systemic issues. In his four-volume report totalling some 1,230 pages last December he made 65 recommendations - most of which have been ignored.

"Thus, there is this dichotomy," Roberts said. "Mr. Oppal as attorney general in the years 2005, 2006, and 2007 approved funding from the province for a reward authorized by the Vancouver Police Board to assist the VPD in the investigation of Vancouver's crimes of kidnapping and murder in the disappearance and murder of the missing women, and Mr. Oppal as commissioner of the inquiry in 2012 failed to make findings of fact as to the failure of the VPD to conduct any investigation at all of Vancouver's crimes of kidnapping and murder in the disappearance and murder of the missing women."

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Thursday, November 7

Preview: Playwright gives Robert Pickton victims a voice in Pig Girl


Nadien Chu and Randy Hughson in Theatre Network’s Pig Girl running Nov 7-24 at The Roxy Theatre.

Photograph by: Ian Jackson, Epic Photography


Pig Girl

Theatre: Theatre Network at the Roxy

Written by: Colleen Murphy

Directed by: Bradley Moss

Starring: Nadien Chu, Elinor Holt, Brian Dooley, Randy Hughson

Running: through Nov. 24

Tickets: 780-453-2440,


EDMONTON - “I do scare myself,” agrees Colleen Murphy, with a wry sort of grimace. “How could I not?”

It was, after all, the most frightening of stories — the real-life contemporary horror kind that unspools in the news and induces a collective shudder — that inspired, no, provoked, Murphy’s new play, premièring Thursday at Theatre Network. Pig Girl was born in fury.

In 2010, three years after a Port Coquitlam pig farmer, Robert “Willie” Pickton by name, had finally been convicted of the grisly murders of six women from Vancouver’s downtown eastside, the Crown opted not to proceed with 20 outstanding murder charges against him.

“I got angry,” says Murphy simply, “and that was Pig Girl.” Since then, legal arguments have tempered her thoughts on that decision, says the Governor General’s Award-winning Toronto-based playwright/filmmaker. “But I don’t censor my reactions; if I did I’d probably be a more successful playwright.”

Revealingly, Pig Girl gets its première production not at one of the country’s big regional theatres, but at a small Edmonton company with a known appetite for danger. Risk attaches to it at every level.

There’s the violence of the story, of course; the sight of a large meat hook with a hoist and pulley arrangement centre stage is a chilling one. There’s the inflammatory fact that the characters, named simply Dying Girl, Killer, Sister, Police Officer, remain onstage throughout, speaking for themselves. “Whenever you offer the audience a very charged emotional experience, it’s ‘risky’,” Murphy says. “And when the event is still in the zeitgeist, well ... How will the audience react? Not for me to know. They may leave, they may get angry. I can only offer the play ...”

Murphy, a forthright but genial conversationalist, cites a fellow playwright, American Paula Vogel, who said “a writer can talk to the dead.” Murphy thinks in reverse: “I can make the dead talk.” The women — mostly aboriginal, mostly addicts, mostly sex workers — whose deaths, like their lives, were a matter of indifference to the police, and to the culture at large, “were victims in every way, reduced to awful mug shots in the news,” she says. “I wanted to imagine a woman like a Roman gladiator fighting for her life. We go though it with her ... and by doing that honour her suffering, find the heroic in the tragic. Dying Girl, in my imagination, fights against her terrible fate. She has a voice; she has memories of beauty.”

“I have no message; I’m not interested in messages ... But this is the reality; we still live in a world where women are crucified, figuratively and literally.”

Her final confrontation with the Killer happens in real time onstage. Meanwhile, the Sister and the Police Officer are looking out over the audience “as they experience time over the course of nine years,” the stage directions say. And that lethal duration — the official complacency, inertia, delays, excuses that permitted the death toll to mount as the women’s relatives push for action — is part of Murphy’s story, too. “During that time, the Police Officer’s own conscience comes into play,” says Murphy. “He’s realizing he’s made a terrible and undoable mistake. I didn’t want it to be easy for people ...”

“I wrote it fast, but my fast is pretty slow,” she sighs, recalling the year she spent writing the first draft, the first months with all the characters in pig masks. “Anger triggers the switch. But you always have to scratch anger and find human complexities beneath.” And that applies not only to the policeman, but to the marginalized women, and even to the damaged and dangerous serial killer himself.

The intricate double-time was “a choice that chose itself,” Murphy smiles. “The characters and form arrived in my mind simultaneously ... No exits. No entrances. The audience can experience all four characters at the same time. Watch whoever you want.” Similarly, time takes on an unexpected and revealing configuration in another Murphy play inspired by a horrific act of violence. The scenes of her award-winning two-hander The December Man (at the Citadel in 2008) play out in reverse chronology, as it explores the fallout not on the victims but the survivors of the horrific shooting spree at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique in 1989. The Breathing Hole, Murphy’s current opera libretto-in-progress with the young composer Aaron Gervais, unfolds over 500 years. Its protagonist? A polar bear. “Aaron allows me to be mad! And big!”

In Murphy’s other theatre première of this season, Armstrong’s War, currently at Vancouver’s Arts Club, the darkest questions, mercy killing for one, are intimately framed by “the budding and conflicted relationship,” as she puts it, between a 21-year-old soldier wounded in Afghanistan and the 12-year-old who reads to him. “I can’t put war onstage, so ...”

“That’s the beauty of theatre over film, Murphy thinks. “The theatre allows for more powerful emotional reality, since you’re with live actors. It’s the tension of us being all in the same place, actors and audience.” Pig Girl was never going to be a movie.

Murphy, who grew up in northern Ontario and left home to be an actor, is one of a select group of Canadian playwrights entitled, by experience (and awards), to muse on the differences. After her first play All Other Destinations Are Cancelled opened at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in 1987, she married the late Canadian filmmaker Allan King and de-camped to the world of cellulois, starting distinctively with Putty Worm, controversial for its violence, which premièred at the Toronto Internation Film Festival in 1993. And eventually, she came back to theatre.

“It’s one of the few places left where there’s spontaneous combustion!” The thought makes her smile.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Wednesday, November 6

An Awkward Silence Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System

An Awkward Silence Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System:

'via Blog this'

Fewer than half of Pickton inquiry recommendations ‘in progress’ or complete


Robert Pickton is shown in an artist's drawing listening to the guilty verdict handed to him BC Supreme Court in New Westminster, Sunday, December 9, 2007. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Felicity Don

VANCOUVER - The B.C. government says it has taken action on fewer than half of the recommendations from a public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case, nearly a year after the report was released.

Commissioner Wally Oppal's report, released last December, made 65 recommendations for change and outlined a litany of police failures that allowed Pickton to kill women.

The Justice Ministry has released a progress report, identifying just 28 recommendations where action has been taken, with nearly all of them still considered in progress.

Oppal's report highlighted two recommendations as urgent, including funding for a drop-in centre for sex workers in the Downtown Eastside and transportation along Highway 16, dubbed the Highway of Tears, in the province's north.

The government was quick to announce funding for the WISH drop-in centre, but the progress report says the province is still studying potential transportation options for the Highway of Tears.

One of the most high-profile recommendations was Oppal's call for a regional police force in the Vancouver area, and while a review of policing in B.C. is about to begin, the province has largely steered

clear of the regional policing debate.

© Copyright (c)

Tuesday, November 5

An Awkward Silence: Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System

An Awkward Silence: Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System

Pearce, Maryanne

The murders and suspicious disappearances of women across Canada over the past forty years have received considerable national attention in the past decade. The disappearances and murders of scores of women in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba have highlighted the vulnerability of women to extreme violence. Girls and women of Aboriginal ethnicity have been disproportionally affected in all of these cases and have high rates of violent victimization. The current socio-economic situation faced by Aboriginal women contributes to this. To provide publicly available data of missing and murdered women in Canada, a database was created containing details of 3,329 women, including 824 who are Aboriginal. There are key risk factors that increase the probability of experiencing lethal violence: street prostitution, addiction and insecure housing. The vast majority of sex workers who experience lethal violence are street prostitutes. The dissertation examines the legal status and forms of prostitution in Canada and internationally, as well as the individual and societal impacts of prostitution. A review of current research on violence and prostitution is presented. The thesis provides summaries from 150 serial homicide cases targeting prostitutes in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. The trends and questions posed by these cases are identified. The cases of the missing women of Vancouver and Robert Pickton are detailed. The key findings from the provincial inquiry into the missing women cases and an analysis of the most egregious failings of the investigations (Projects Amelia and Evenhanded) are discussed. Frequently encountered challenges and common errors, as well as investigative opportunities and best practices of police, and other initiatives and recommendations aimed at non-police agencies are evaluated. The three other RCMP-led projects, KARE, DEVOTE and E-PANA, which are large, dedicated units focused on vulnerable women, are assessed. All Canadian women deserve to live free of violence. For women with vulnerable life histories, violence is a daily threat and a common occurrence. More must be done to prevent violence and to hold offenders responsible when violence has been done. This dissertation is a plea for resources and attention; to turn apathy into pragmatic, concrete action founded on solid evidence-based research.



PDF: Pearce_Maryanne_2013_Thesis.pdf

Sunday, November 3

Murderer took lie detector test about missing B.C. tree planter Nicole Hoar, but police aren’t releasing the results


Police and a dog squad search a property on Isle Pierre near Prince George in August 2009 as part of the investigation into the disappearance of Nicole Hoar. A convicted murderer who once lived there has since taken a polygraph test but the results aren't known.

Photograph by: Dave Milne, PROVINCE

A convicted murderer who has long been a person of interest in the disappearance of Nicole Hoar along the Highway of Tears has taken a polygraph in connection with the case, but police won’t reveal the results.

Leland Switzer was arrested for the murder of his brother Irwin just a few days after Hoar went missing from a gas station on the outskirts of Prince George on June 21, 2002. He is currently serving a 25-year sentence.

Nicole Hoar was a 25-year-old tree planter from Alberta, an art student on a break from her job who planned to hitchhike to Smithers to meet her sister and attend a music festival when she disappeared. Her death is part of the RCMP’s E-PANA investigation into the deaths and disappearances of 18 women along three highways in B.C.

In 2009, police named Switzer a person of interest in Hoar’s disappearance. They searched his property in Isle Pierre, about 30 kilometres northwest of Prince George, but he was never charged.

The polygraph development came to light this week after a private RCMP letter to Switzer was released on social media.

The letter, sent in July, is addressed to Switzer from Sgt. Rob Barrett of the RCMP’s E Division Major Crime Section, Unsolved Homicides Unit. In it, Barrett states Switzer agreed to take a polygraph test on July 25 regarding Hoar’s murder.

The letter states that after Switzer took the test — and if he passed it — the RCMP would “release a letter to the media as well as to the Parole Board advising them of your cooperation and that the RCMP does not consider you a person of interest in the Nicole Hoar investigation.”

There has been no such release.

RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen confirmed this week that the letter was genuine and that Switzer “participated in a polygraph examination that allowed us to further the investigation.”

However, he would not release the results of the polygraph.

“The Nicole Hoar investigation remains active and ongoing and all possible investigative techniques are being used in order to solve this case,” Thiessen said. “Over 100 persons of interest have been polygraphed by Project E-PANA investigators. It is a complex investigation and we are not in a position to discuss the specifics around Nicole’s case. However, no one has been charged in connection with her death.”

He added, “the search for answers is also continuing in the other E-PANA cases. We continue to encourage the public to come forward with any information.”

The E-PANA investigation covers 18 women who have been murdered or gone missing along highways 16, 97 and 5 since the late 1960s, from 27-year-old Gloria Moody, found dead in 1969, to 14-year-old Aielah Saric Auger, found dead on Highway 16 in 2006.

In September 2012, the RCMP linked deceased U.S. serial killer Bobby Jack Fowler to the 1974 death of 16-year-old Colleen MacMillen via DNA evidence.

Fowler was also a suspect in the deaths of Gale Weys and Pamela Darlington, who disappeared around the same time, but investigators have not been able to link him to any more cases.

At that time police stressed the deaths were not the work of one killer, but that police had three or four persons of interest.

In December 2012, the RCMP began working with U.S. authorities looking into U.S. serial killer Israel Keyes. Keyes travelled to B.C. in 2005 and 2007 and admitted killing eight people, while alluding to others, but he has yet to be linked to any E-PANA cases.

© Copyright (c) The Province