Fate of Pickton farm being closely watched
Property should be awarded in trust for farmer's alleged victims, family argues

October 7, 2006

VANCOUVER -- The family of Andrea Joesbury filed a civil lawsuit against Robert Pickton days after the Port Coquitlam pig farmer was charged with her murder in 2002. They hoped, if they were successful, that his property would be awarded in trust for a memorial to all the women he is accused of killing.

Their interest in the property was registered with authorities, ensuring that the land could not be sold before their court case was completed. But they decided to wait for the homicide charge against Mr. Pickton to be resolved before going ahead in court with their claim.

However, another court case, begun by his brother, David Pickton, has now caught their attention.

David Pickton will be in court Oct. 18 in an effort to overturn a decision by assessment authorities to classify the farm as a mostly residential property. The land would have a significantly higher value as a residential property and the property tax bill would soar by several thousands of dollars.

What happens if the new assessment sticks and the family stops paying its property taxes, asked Victoria lawyer Peter Firestone, who represents the family of Ms. Joesbury, in an interview yesterday.

"The assessment does not matter to me, except the assessment may have a bearing if they don't pay it, because, as you know, there will be a tax sale," he said.

The Joesbury family has not been involved in the assessment dispute and no one has spoken with him about the case, Mr. Firestone said.

But the family still expects the farm to be available to them if they succeed in court with their civil lawsuit.

"The big picture here is we're hoping to realize on a judgment which we anticipate obtaining," Mr. Firestone said.

After an unprecedented investigation on the property, police alleged the site was the deadliest crime scene ever in Canadian history. Mr. Pickton is to stand trial on six murder charges, including the death of Ms. Joesbury, beginning Jan. 8. He has also been charged with 20 additional murders as part of Vancouver's Missing Women's case. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

He was arrested almost five years ago, on Feb. 22, 2002, and charged with Ms. Joesbury's death on April 9, 2002. Ms. Joesbury's family launched the civil lawsuit against Mr. Pickton on April 24, 2002.

David Pickton co-owns the 6.1-hectare site with Robert Pickton and their sister, Linda Wright. Ms. Joesbury's lawsuit makes a claim against the three co-owners on the basis that the siblings should have been aware of what Robert Pickton was doing on the property.

The land has been unused since the police investigation on the property began on Feb. 5, 2002.

The most recent assessment places the value of the land as a residential property at $7.1-million. Although zoned for agricultural use, the land is adjacent to a residential community and a golf course.

As farmland, the property would be worth less than $1-million. In documents submitted to court, Mr. Pickton stated he intends to use the land for hay production and hay sales. Efforts to initiate farming on the land have been hampered by the two-year police investigation at the property, the documents stated. David Pickton did not respond to requests this week for an interview.

Mr. Firestone said he does not expect liability for Ms. Joesbury's death to be an issue if Mr. Pickton is convicted in the criminal trial. "The questions will become one of damages and ability to collect," he said.

The Joesbury family is one of five claims against the property. The federal government has a court judgment from July of 2002, for outstanding taxes of $4,525.30 plus interest, compounded daily. As well, the B.C. government registered a $10-million mortgage against the property on Feb. 28, 2003, as security for payment of legal fees for Mr. Pickton's defence against the homicide charges.

The mortgage was in addition to a claim against the property for $375,000 that Mr. Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, registered in April, 2002, to cover his fees.

Mr. Ritchie transferred his interest to the provincial government after the court ordered the government to pick up Mr. Pickton's legal bill in order to ensure that he could properly defend himself against the murder charges. Also, a credit union provided a mortgage of $1.3-million against the property in 1998.

Mr. Firestone said government claims against the property may take precedent over the claims of Ms. Joesbury and other victims' families. But that does not diminish their interest in the fate of the property.

"This is the only asset I am aware of that would be available for damages for all these women," Mr. Firestone said.

Copyright 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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