Lindsay Kines: Police failed those women in Pickton case -- but why?


Looking back, it was the late-night telephone calls that troubled me the most.

The horrors of Robert Pickton's farm were still years away, as was the media frenzy surrounding the trial of Canada's most prolific serial killer. Back in 1997, when I began covering the disappearance of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for the Vancouver Sun, nobody was paying much attention to the women or their families.

My stories rarely made front page, and the relatives of the missing were all but ignored.

And so, without anyone else to turn to, they would call me at home in the evening just to say how much they missed their sisters or friends, and to ask me why the police were taking so long. When, they wanted to know, would they get some answers?

I had no idea what to say to them then, and I still don't. I spent six years covering the missing women case, much of that time when nobody else seemed interested in writing about it. Kim Bolan, Lori Culbert and I delved into problems with the initial Vancouver police investigation in 2001, and Kim and I were the first reporters on the scene when police searched Pickton's farm in 2002.

But I still don't understand how police failed to catch Pickton sooner.

That's why I find it so alarming to see the same politicians and media commentators, who paid so little attention to these women years ago, turning their backs on them once again by dismissing calls for a public inquiry. Even my own paper joined the fray Sunday.

Too costly, the arguments go. What would it accomplish to relive the horror? And besides, don't we already know what went wrong anyway?

Well, no, we don't. The trial of Pickton barely skimmed the surface of the policing errors, and the internal police reviews are still under wraps. How people can argue against a review before knowing what went wrong is beyond me. Have none of them paused to wonder why police themselves are calling for an inquiry? Is it possible they know that the mistakes were so egregious that nothing short of a full accounting will suffice?

This is not about reliving the horror. It's about finding out why police had Pickton dead in their sights more than two years before his arrest, and let him slip away.

Remember, by August 1999, police not only knew about Pickton's attempt to kill a prostitute at his farm in 1997, they had information on two women who, independently of one another, claimed to have seen incriminating evidence at Pickton's farm. One had seen bags of bloody clothing and women's identification, the other a woman's body hanging in his barn.

Port Coquitlam RCMP took the lead on Pickton because he lived in their jurisdiction. And they, along with the Vancouver police, considered him such a prime suspect that they put him under surveillance. There was talk of getting wiretap or staging an undercover operation.

Then, nothing. The woman who had told others about a body denied this in police interviews. Years later she would become a star witness at Pickton's trial, but back then, some officers accepted her lies, and the investigation stalled.

Over the next 30 months, Pickton continued to kill women at a ferocious rate. By my count, 14 women whose DNA was found at the farm went missing from August 1999 until Pickton was finally arrested and his farm searched in February, 2002.

Fourteen dead women. Is that not "too costly" for anyone?

And, don't forget, it was no stroke of investigative brilliance that finally got police onto Pickton's farm. It was a rookie RCMP constable investigating a tip about weapons. If that's all it took, could police not have tried something similar back in 1999?

Yes, people make mistakes. But systems can be fixed to reduce errors and that's what a review has to examine.

The B.C. government no doubt fears exposing its own failures. We're one of the last provinces in Canada to establish regional police forces. Instead, we have a patchwork of municipal departments and RCMP detachments on the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria. An independent review might well show that such a bizarre system puts people's lives at risk.

Vancouver police, after all, were under intense pressure to solve the missing women case. The RCMP, however, felt no such heat. Is that why they took their sweet time getting onto Pickton's farm? And would a regional force tasked with solving the missing women case as well as pursuing Pickton have found a way to get to him sooner?

Premier Gordon Campbell looks like he has no interest in asking those questions, let alone listening to the answers. The deaths of 14 women should leave him no choice.

Politicians, police and the media were asleep at the switch when relatives began asking questions about these missing women years ago. Let's not doze off again when we're this close to finally giving them some answers. v

Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Read more:

How Lindsay Kines and Sun Reporters broke missing women story. Nov 6, 2002

Could I have done more, ex-'Toban anquishes. Jan 31, 2007




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016