Oppal gets additional month to finish report on Pickton inquiry


VANCOUVER Even as a report is delayed yet again into the actions of police around serial killer Robert Pickton, there are high expectations from advocates and activists in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside that the report will have life-saving solutions.

The province has granted an extra month to the commissioner who oversaw the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton serial murder case to hand in his final report.

"Members of the community who could have played a critical role in the inquiry process were not able to participate. That needs to be healed," said Esther Shannon, with the Honouring Truth sex workers' organizing group.

"If there's no effective way of integrating the community, the recommendations have a very high mountain to climb."

Shannon and a couple dozen people participated in a public reading Thursday aimed at highlighting the sexism and racism they believe was part of the problem that allowed Pickton to continue killing women for so long.

About 30 people, including advocates and friends of the serial killer's victims, took turns reading from a 102-page assessment written by the lawyer appointed to broadly represent the interests of the Downtown Eastside during the inquiry.

Some 13 groups, including those representing aboriginal concerns and civil liberties, withdrew from the inquiry before it began to protest the province's denial of legal funding for them at the inquiry.

The report by lawyer Jason Gratl offers its own analysis of why Pickton was able to hunt women in the gritty Vancouver neighbourhood for so long, and puts forward 37 recommendations of its own.

Oppal's task was to examine why police failed to catch Pickton as he murdered sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The former B.C. Appeal Court judge held 94 days of formal hearings to gather evidence, and also collected written submissions and information at public forums throughout the province.

The government says it has spent $8.6 million on the commission's work to date.

"You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind to sit through that entire inquiry and not write good recommendations out of it," said Kerry Porth, a former sex worker who attended much of the inquiry and helped organize the event.

"I'm really hopeful."

When the inquiry was first announced in 2010, Oppal was given until the end of 2011 to finish his work, but that was extended to June 30 of this year and then again to Oct. 31.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond signed an order in council this week that gives Oppal yet another extension until Nov. 30.

"The public release date of the report will be determined in consultation with the commission, taking into consideration the information and privacy review and the time needed to print the report," said a release from the government.

Porth said she was disappointed the report has yet again been delayed, but said she'd prefer the necessary time be taken to craft recommendations that could lead to "serious change."

"But a report is just a report and it could end up on a shelf gathering dust," she added. "We will continue to push the provincial government to implement those recommendations when they come out."

Porth said she would like to see recommendations such as police officers training on issues faced by aboriginal women, that the missing person's intake process by reformed and that there be compensation for the children of the murdered women.

Shannon said there's desire for the report to offer a funding model for sex-worker outreach groups, and for the report to be structured in such a way that it can be regularly revisited. The goal would be to easily tell what actions have been taken.

Gratl said his top recommendation would be for a "discrimination audit" to be conducted within both the Vancouver Police Department and B.C. RCMP forces.

"Usually auditors have close access to the institution, the type of access the commissioner didn't necessarily take advantage of, entirely," Gratl said.

"All we saw was a tiny time slice from 1998 to 2002 of discrimination in respect of a specific investigation. What we didn't see was a much broader overview."

Gratl said such an audit would look at how resource allocation decisions are made, how many officers are devoted to the safety of sex workers and drug users, and also how many officers are devoted to incarcerating such individual.

The inquiry heard that Vancouver police and the RCMP received evidence implicating Pickton in the disappearances of sex workers several years before his arrest.

Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder, but the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm. He told an undercover police officer he killed a total of 49.

Bond has said she will be drawing heavily on Oppal's report when her government releases the second phase of a plan to reform the province's justice system, due some time early next year.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016