VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police blasted at Missing Women inquiry for failures to catch killer sooner
Almost four years after serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton was convicted of killing six women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the Missing Woman inquiry began with a protest outside.
BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN - OCTOBER 11, 2011
• For more photos from the inquiry, click here
VANCOUVER -- The lawyer for the families of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton blasted police Tuesday for their failures to catch the killer sooner.
Cameron Ward, in his opening address to the Missing Woman commission of inquiry, suggested the Vancouver police gave families the "brush off" when they tried to reported their loved ones missing.
He said the VPD, and later the RCMP, treated the missing women case with indifference and incompetence by failing to assign enough resources.
That was because the missing women were poverty stricken, poorly educated and largely were drug-addicted sex trade workers, with a large proportion being first nations women, Ward said.
Police "couldn't have cared less what happened to these women," Ward told the inquiry.
"The pervasive problem was the Vancouver police department and the RCMP simply had a bad attitude," the lawyer.
Ward pointed out that the RCMP, tipped that Pickton was a possible suspect, failed to conduct surveillance on the serial killer before he was caught in 2002.
And the Mounties failed to act on Pickton's offer to police in 2000 that they could search his farm.
"Mr. Commissioner, the facts in the public domain are shocking and led our clients to the conclusion that both the Vancouver police department and the RCMP completely botched the handling of the missing women investigation," Ward said during his opening address at the start of the inquiry Tuesday.
"The conduct of both police forces was inexcusable and egregious," the lawyer added.
"They [the families of Pickton's victims] believe that the authorities are culpable in the deaths of over a dozen women because the authorities enabled Pickton to literally get away with murder for five more years," Ward said.
"Our clients believe the VPD, the RCMP and the Criminal Justice Branch have the blood of their loved ones on their hands," he said.
Ward said he expects the evidence to be called at the inquiry will show the Vancouver police officers made fundamental errors in failing to share information with the RCMP and even with their own police force, and failed to conduct surveillance on Pickton after tips in 1998 about Pickton telling people that he had the ability to get rid of bodies by feeding them to his hogs.
In 2000, Ward pointed out, the RCMP failed to take Pickton up on his offer when he told investigators they could search his Port Coquitlam farm, where he often butchered pigs at night.
He said the criminal justice branch failed the families of Pickton's victims in 1998 when the branch decided to stay charges against Pickton of attempted murder, unlawful confinement, assault with a weapon and aggravated assault.
Pickton was charged with the offences after he stabbed a prostitute at his farm in March 1997. The woman, who managed to slash Pickton with the same knife, fled naked and bleeding onto the street, where she was picked up by a couple passing by in their car.
While the woman and Pickton were later treated in the same hospital, police found a handcuff key in Pickton's pocket, which was used to unlock the handcuff dangling from the woman's wrist.
The inquiry is expected to hear evidence that prosecutors and police deemed the woman was an uncooperative witness who wasn't credible because she was a drug addicted prostitute from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, as were all of Pickton's victims.
Ward, the lawyer representing 18 families of Pickton's victims, said outside court that the families have faith in the inquiry but the evidence to be heard is going to open old wounds.
The inquiry is going to hear much about Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods that is plagued by violence, drug addiction, mental health problems and homelessness.
Most of Pickton's victims were vulnerable because they were addicted to drugs and alcohol and involved in the sex trade.
Pickton picked up the women and took them to his farm with hollow promises of drugs, alcohol and money.
The inquiry, which is expected to hear a response Wednesday from the lawyers representing the Vancouver police and the RCMP, began Tuesday with a protest staged on the street outside at Georgia and Granville, which blocked traffic as a circle of native drummers took over the intersection.
The protest was over what is being called a "sham" inquiry after 16 groups granted standing have dropped out because the provincial government refused to grant funding for legal counsel.
The latest to drop out were the Assembly of First Nations and a coalition of sex trade workers that includes the WISH Drop-in Centre Society, PACE (Providing Alternatives, Counselling & Education) Society, and SWUAV (Sex Workers United Against Violence) Society.
Art Vertlieb, in his opening outline of the evidence to be heard at the inquiry, said there will be allegations that a civilian clerk with the Vancouver police missing persons unit was dismissive of reports of missing women working in the sex trade and treated first nations women differently who were allegedly rebuffed and not treated with compassion and respect.
The inquiry will also hear how the missing person unit took a long time identifying the problem of long-term missing women.
Vertlieb said despite police receiving tips about Pickton as a suspect, Vancouver police continued to insist the women were missing and no serial killer was preying on women in the Downtown Eastside..
The lawyer told Commissioner Wally Oppal that the inquiry will have to answer two key questions: Why was foul play dismissed and why did police not warn the public, particularly the women of the Downtown Eastside?
Oppal's mandate includes probing the mistakes made by police and finding fault, if necessary.
Rick Frey, the father of Marnie Frey, whose daughter was killed by Pickton, said he was sad to see so many groups withdraw.
"The way it is now, the families are the only ones in there being represented," he said outside the inquiry, which is taking place in a federal courtroom.
Frey the police and government as 19 lawyers. "That's not a level playing field," he said.
He and other families want the truth to come out about what went wrong with the police investigations. He also wants to know if Pickton had accomplices.
Frey believes Pickton did not act alone.
The inquiry is supposed to complete its work by Dec. 31 of this year, but the commissioner likely will ask the provincial government for an extension until sometime next year, Vertlieb said.
Click here to read Exhibit 2, the external review report by RCMP Supt. Bob J. Williams.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: January 01, 2007