Doing better police work

The Gazette

Monday, October 07, 2002

There can be no public inquiry into the police work in the case of Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farmer Robert Pickton, now facing charges in the murders of 15 Vancouver-area women, until his trial is over. But when that moment comes, there must be one. If Mr. Pickton is found guilty, this case would be the third time in Canada a serial killer has been allowed to continue to prey on his victims for years after suspicions have been voiced about his activities.

The other two cases involve Clifford Olson, found guilty in 1982 of murdering 11 children in British Columbia in 1980 and 1981, and Paul Bernardo, found guilty in 1995 of the sex killings of two school girls and the rapes of several young women in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto.

In all three cases, jurisdictional battles among police departments appear to have played a paralyzing role in the investigations. This is an intolerable situation given the fact that the RCMP has determined that there are more than 1,100 cases in which links have been established connecting one crime to another. This suggests that there are a large number of serial offenders operating in this country.

Worse still is the suggestion that social prejudice might have played a role, at least in the Pickton case. Friends and relatives of the more than 50 women, mainly drug addicts and prostitutes, who went missing from Vancouver's downtown core since 1983 have said they believe police were unconcerned with the fate of prostitutes.

A former employee of Mr. Pickford, Bill Hiscox, also said he wondered whether his criminal record and drug addiction meant Vancouver police did not take seriously his tip connecting Mr. Pickford with bloody clothing and women's identification.

Under increasing pressure from the missing women's families and friends, in early 2001 a joint RCMP-Vancouver police investigation began. The team expanded early this year to 30 members. Today, 91 police officers, archaeology students and support workers are conducting a painstaking search of the farm property where Mr. Pickton lived.

The case of Clifford Olson was marred by turf wars, personality clashes and miscommunication, according to retired RCMP superintendent Bruce Northorp, who two years ago broke almost 20 years of self-imposed silence. According to Mr. Northorp, who in June 1981 was put in charge of the Olson investigation, as many as seven of Mr. Olson's young victims might have been saved if the earlier findings of two RCMP corporals had not been ignored.

Paul Bernardo's case was even more complicated, involving as it did four different police forces in five cities. Two separate groups of crown attorneys were involved in laying approximately 60 charges.

As a result of an inquiry into the handling of the Bernardo case, a Canada-wide investigative protocol was developed, called the Major Case Management model. Using data gathered by the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System, the model has been used successfully in catching Michael Cheeseman, a former Beaconsfield resident. Mr. Cheeseman pleaded guilty in 2000 to 17 sex-related charges involving young girls in almost a dozen cities and towns, mostly along the Highway 401 corridor.

Police forces across the country have been slow to adopt the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System, fearful in some cases of losing their jurisdiction or sharing sensitive information. Ontario's reporting rate to the system is 100 per cent. Other provinces, including Quebec, lag far behind. We need to use every tool we have in the battle against crime. It's time we took a long, detailed look at what our police forces are doing.

 Copyright 2002 Montreal Gazette

Pickton tape given to police in 1998-Apr 25, 2002



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Updated: August 21, 2016