Missing Women Commission official told to 'help' on arms length report

 Apr 4, 2012 – 10:22 PM ET

VANCOUVER — More concerns about the troubled Missing Women Commission of Inquiry are being raised in the wake of a National Post investigation around allegations of harassment inside an inquiry workplace that former employees claim is rife with conflict.

The new concerns involve the commission’s executive director of operations and planning, John Boddie, a former Vancouver Police Department sergeant who, it has emerged, works directly with key inquiry witnesses on behalf of the commission and its own team of lawyers. The inquiry was called to examine how VPD and RCMP conducted investigations into cases of missing women and serial killer Robert Pickton.

According to inquiry sources, Mr. Boddie’s role far exceeds what is normally expected of an inquiry executive director.

“The executive director [of a public inquiry] is normally an office manager and a coordinator between the commission and the provincial government,” one former staff member told the National Post, on condition of anonymity. “It’s purely an administrative role. In this inquiry, it’s completely different. His focus has not been on those administrative tasks. He’s been helping counsel. He sometimes sits at the counsel table [during hearings]. I’ve never seen that before.”

Senior commission counsel Art Vertlieb acknowledged that Mr. Boddie sometimes interviews inquiry witnesses, prior to their sworn testimonies. “He has interviewed police,” Mr. Vertlieb said, adding that he did “not remember” who the officers were. “I don’t keep track of all that,” he said in an interview.

‘I said to him, ‘You go back and if you can help get this report done as soon as possible, that’s what I want’

The National Post has learned that over two consecutive weekends in November, former VPD officer Boddie flew to Ontario to assist Peel Regional Police deputy chief Jennifer Evans complete an “independent” expert witness report about the botched VPD and RCMP investigations. Her report was deemed crucial to the inquiry and to its commissioner, Wally Oppal. It was expected to give the commission an objective, arm’s-length view of the police investigations.

Deputy Chief Evans was to deliver her report before public hearings began in October. Despite having at least two Peel police officers to assist her in the task, she was unable to complete her report on time. She has explained to the inquiry that she had difficulties obtaining records and documents from the two police agencies she was examining.

Mr. Vertlieb says he instructed Mr. Boddie to meet with Deputy Chief Evans in Ontario. “I said to him, ‘You go back and if you can help get this report done as soon as possible, that’s what I want,” he told the National Post. “’Everyone’s clamouring for it, including me. I want you to go back and if you can help her in any way, do so.’”

He denied suggestions that a commission lawyer had been instructed to meet in Ontario with Deputy Chief Evans but had refused, on grounds that such a meeting would be inappropriate in the circumstances. A former staff member says Mr. Boddie was sent in the lawyer’s place.

The inquiry received the Evans report on Nov. 14, days after Mr. Boddie’s second Ontario visit.

Mr. Vertlieb insists he never learned what his executive director did to help Deputy Chief Evans complete her assignment. “I didn’t debrief him, and I didn’t go through what he did with her,” he said. “I don’t know what he did.”

He agreed that Mr. Boddie met with Deputy Chief Evans “many times,” usually in Vancouver. But when a similar suggestion was put to Deputy Chief Evans in January, during cross-examination of her at the inquiry, she told a somewhat different story. “I would say we had many conversations,” she told lawyer Cameron Ward, who is acting at the inquiry for families of 25 missing and murdered women. “I’m not sure about meetings, but conversations and phone calls, yes.”

Mr. Vertlieb said he had no problem with these exchanges, even if he didn’t know what all they involved, and despite Mr. Boddie’s VPD background. “I don’t see a conflict,” he says.

But University of British Columbia law professor Emma Cunliffe, an expert in how inquiries are conducted, says Mr. Boddie’s dealings with key police witnesses creates the appearance of “an apprehension of bias of independence,” and could undermine the missing women inquiry, which is already beset with controversy.

“The law assumes that an expert witness relies only on their expertise to make opinions,” says Prof. Cunliffe. In this case, “if she acted on Mr. Boddie’s advice, she’s not being an independent expert.” The fact that Mr. Boddie is a former VPD officer is further cause for concern. “I feel there may reason to inquire further. That is the job of an inquiry commissioner,” said Prof. Cunliffe.

Deputy Chief Evans did not respond to interview requests this week; a Peel police spokesperson said she is on vacation and would not receive the questions put to her.

For his part, Mr. Boddie says he made the two trips to Ontario only to “fact check” the Evans report. He denied that he may have influenced her opinions and conclusions.

Besides running the commission office and interviewing witnesses, he said, he writes questions for Mr. Vertlieb to ask witnesses in examination, inside the inquiry hearing room. He compared his role to that of a paralegal. But he is neither a paralegal nor lawyer. Mr. Boddie left the VPD in 1988 after a 16-year career, and now works as a security industry consultant. He was hired by inquiry commissioner Oppal in 2010, at Mr. Vertlieb’s recommendation.

Mr. Boddie and Mr. Vertlieb are close friends. “John is an ex-police officer,” Mr. Vertlieb said. “I’ve known him a long time. I thought he would be ideal [as the inquiry’s executive director] because he had a policing background and managerial background, with his MBA. I thought he was perfect for the job.”

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Updated: August 21, 2016