VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
High-priced lawyer Greenspan attacks allegations of 'coverup' as ex-VPD chief Blythe testifies
BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE FEBRUARY 20, 2012
The man who was Vancouver's police chief from 1999 to 2002 — when serial killer Robert Pickton stepped up his pace of killing Downtown Eastside women — took the stand at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry amid a spate of fireworks and jostling among lawyers.
Former VPD Chief Const. Terry Blythe, who was chief from December 1999 to August 2002, has retained the well-respected and costly Toronto lawyer Edward Greenspan. Greenspan, who has dispatched a lawyer from his firm to the inquiry until today, began in person Monday by attacking allegations the inquiry has become a "coverup." Greenspan said such allegations have been made on the blog of Cameron Ward, one of two lawyers for the families of 25 women murdered by Pickton or still among the missing.
Greenspan told Commissioner Wally Oppal that there have been "very serious allegations" made that Blythe was ''involved in...or enabled a coverup when he was chief of police."
When Ward objected to Greenspan's line of attack, Greenspan offered to drop questions about a coverup as long as Ward would exempt his client Blythe from any suggestions that the former chief had in any way not committed fully to the missing women investigation or concealed facts about it. Ward declined to do so.
Greenspan then launched into questioning Blythe about his long and distinguished police career, starting as a 20-year-old officer in 1969 and progressing through patrol, internal affairs, vice and narcotics, to acting chief and then chief from June 1999 to August of 2002, when he voluntarily retired. Greenspan noted that Blythe's father and godfather were police officers, and that Blythe and his father between them amassed 65 years of experience in police work with the VPD. Details of Blythe's policing career, including as a beat cop in the Downtown Eastside, were set out by him on the witness stand, although Greenspan began by joking that Blythe could "leave out the coffee and donuts."
Greenspan asked if Blythe ever forgot in his long career "where you came from" as a beat cop and Blythe responded he did not. Asked if he ever "cared less about one citizen or another in this great city?" Blythe answered: "Not for a minute."
Greenspan also directly asked Blythe for his reaction to what he may have "heard suggested at this inquiry that somehow police didn't try enough to find the women who began disappearing from the Downtown Eastside as early as 1991.
Replied Blythe: "I do find it offensive (given) all the good work we did and the commitment we made to this troubled neighbourhood."
Lawyer Jason Gratl, acting for Downtown Eastside groups, pointed out to the inquiry that the allegation is that the VPD's "management disengagement" was from the investigation of missing women, not from the community as a whole. Greenspan then asked if it was true that the VPD "didn't make an effort to investigate the missing women because they were from the Downtown Eastside, were sex trade workers and were aboriginal." Replied Blythe: ''I totally disagree."
Blythe testified that by the time he took over as chief he was ''extremely handicapped" by lack of resources, in fact by July 1999, the VPD had already spent 80 per cent of its budget allocated for the year.
Blythe said he did loan VPD DTES beat cop Const. Dave Dickson, twice, to ongoing attempts to determine if women were missing. Dickson and VPD Det. Const. Lori Shenher both believed as many as 28 women had indeed gone missing and they had likely been the victim of foul play. The VPD then concluded, wrongly, that the women stopped going missing by late 1999.
Blythe said on the stand that although he was aware of the importance of the missing women investigation, it was a "sensitive" investigation and that he wasn't personally directly aware of solid informant evidence as early as 1998, identifying Pickton as a likely killer. In fact, Blythe said he knew little about Robert Pickton as a possible serial killer until "just prior to his arrest date," which did not occur until February, 2002.
Informant Bill Hiscox had told both the VPD and the Surrey RCMP in 1998 who Pickton was and where to find him, including the fact that Pickton had been involved in a 1997 attempted murder of a sex-trade worker, kept women's IDs and purses on his Port Coquitlam farm, had bloody clothing on the site and was able to dispose of bodies by putting them through a meat grinder on the farm. Yet Blythe testified he knew little about Hiscox or other informants. The accurate tipsters, including eyewitness Lynn Ellingsen, came forward and were well-known to a joint VPD-RCMP missing-women task set up in late 2000, when Blythe was chief.
"I never heard of any of the resource people (informants) from the street until the investigation came to a conclusion," Blythe admitted, although he later insisted that he was "completely in the picture"once the VPD-RCMP joint investigation was set up in late 2000.
Yet despite the apparent lack of communication between VPD brass and street officers such as Dickson and Det. Const. Lori Shenher, about a possible serial killer preying on DTES women, Blythe said his department was hamstrung anyway, due to budget cutbacks and understaffing. Blythe also emphasized that it was important to him not to "conpromise" the investigation by letting the media or the community know that a serial killer might be active.
"Could it compromise the integrity of the investigation" to issue a warning about a serial killer? asked Greenspan. "Yes it could,"replied Blythe, agreeing with Greenspan that it is "a policing issue well-understood in North America" that is known as "doing it by the book."
Families of the missing and murdered women, who are represented by Ward and lawyer Neil Chantler, have complained that the inquiry has become a "sham." Said Bev Jacobs, a First Nations activist and former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, "It's a policing inquiry only, and the very tight schedule of the inquiry, means that the real issues behind the disappearance of more than 600 aboriginal women in Canada, will never be aired."
Commissioner Wally Oppal has vowed not to extend his deadline of ending hearings by the end of April and handing in his final report by June, 2012. Oppal will issue a ruling Tuesday on what further evidence he will allow to be aired at the hearing.
© Copyright (c) The Province
Updated: January 01, 2007