Missing Women inquiry is a fiasco, lawyer for families tells inquiry


VANCOUVER The Missing Women inquiry is a "fiasco" because it is rushing through witnesses and limiting cross-examination of important Vancouver police witnesses, the lawyer for 25 families of murdered and missing women said Wednesday.

"The families lobbied for a decade for this inquiry," Cameron Ward told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.

"It is quite frankly ridiculous that we get shut down when trying to fulfil our mandates," the lawyer said.

"I can tell you my clients are offended to the very core about the government's limits on this inquiry, which is affecting my mandate," Ward said.

"This process is supposed to be thorough," he added, "But it's become a fiasco because of the time limits."

Ward was responding to Oppal cutting off the cross-examination of Jason Gratl, who is representing Downtown Eastside interests at the inquiry, when he reached his one-hour time limit imposed by the inquiry on his cross-examination of three retired senior Vancouver police officers former Sgt. Geramy Field, whose last name now is Powell, and former inspectors Fred Biddlecombe and Dan Dureau.

Ward complained that he only had an hour to cross-examine the three witnesses, who collectively spent 15 years on the investigations of the missing women case.

The inquiry is probing why police didn't catch Robert Pickton until February 2002, despite Vancouver police receiving tips in 1998 about Pickton being a possible serial killer who was responsible for the deaths of dozens of women.

Oppal responded by saying: "Cross-examination has to be fair, not endless."

He said the time limits imposed by the inquiry of the three witnesses adds up to nine hours of cross-examination.

"Let's get on with it," Oppal told the lawyers.

Powell, who was the first female sergeant in the homicide section and was the supervisor of the detectives working in the Missing Persons unit, testified Wednesday that she never experienced any sexism in the workplace.

She said a few immature people made stupid comments over the years, but she did not experience overt sexism within the Vancouver Police Department.

Ward pointed out that three Vancouver police employees, including two retired civilian employees, Sandy Cameron and Rae-Lynn Dicks, testified they experienced a sexist and racist "old boys culture" at the VPD, which affected the missing women investigation.

Dicks testified that one officer, Ron Joyce, said: "Who cares? It's just another hooker."

Tim Dickson, the lawyer for the VPD, told the inquiry that Joyce denies making the comment and will testify later.

Powell testified Wednesday that she left the department's homicide section for six months to work on a project at the Co-ordinated Law Enforcement Unit, returning in March 1999.

By that time, she recalled, Det.-Const. Lori Shenher, who was investigating the missing women and tips about Pickton, had concluded that the missing women had met with foul play.

Powell told the inquiry she reached the same conclusion that one or more men were preying on sex workers on the streets of Downtown Eastside.

Ward pointed out that Powell attended a series of meetings with her superiors at the VPD and with the RCMP about pursuing Pickton as a suspect.

"You implored management to give you the tools and resources you needed?" the lawyer asked. Powell agreed.

"But help didn't come, did it? Not sufficient help," Ward suggested.

"No," Powell replied. "That was the feeling that we weren't getting the support."

She said the senior VPD managers who were informed in 1999 about Pickton included Biddlecombe, Dureau, then deputy chief John Unger and perhaps chief Bruce Chambers.

Ward suggested to the witness that it must have seemed that the older men in senior management didn't really care.

"I didn't really believe that," Powell said.

"Why wasn't this man (been) brought to justice?" Ward asked about Pickton.

"That's why we're here, to examine all the reasons, which are many," Powell said.

She blamed the slow communication between the Vancouver police, the RCMP, and Unsolved Homicide Unit for the lack of manpower devoted to the case.

She cited an August 1999 interview done by two Unsolved Homicide Unit detectives of Lynn Ellingsen, whom a tipster said had witnessed Pickton with the dead body of a Downtown Eastside sex worker in his barn one night.

Ellingsen told the detectives the story was untrue and one of the detectives, Frank Henley, believed Ellingsen, which caused the investigation to stall.

If the detectives had believed the informant's information, more resources might have been assigned to the investigation and a joint forces operation formed sooner, Powell said.

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of six counts of murder but once confessed he killed 49 women.

The remains or DNA of 33 of the missing women were found on Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

The inquiry, which began hearings last Oct. 11, is expected to conclude testimony by the end of the month.

It will start public policy forums on May 1 in Vancouver.



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

Updated: August 21, 2016