Robert Pickton inquiry chief riled by police 'cover-up' charge

Brian Hutchinson  Feb 6, 2012

VANCOUVER • Emotions boiled over Monday at the inquiry called to examine police investigations of serial killer Robert “Willie” Pickton, with the provincially appointed commissioner angrily denying he is enabling a “cover up,” followed by a lawyer repeating the accusation and walking out of the hearing room.

Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal resumed proceedings Monday with a statement of condemnation directed at lawyer Cameron Ward, who represents at the inquiry the families of 23 missing and murdered women. Mr. Oppal referred to incendiary comments the lawyer made in Saturday’s National Post.

“I was made aware of recent media coverage that attributes to one of the counsel participating in these hearings what appears to be a suggestion that the commission may be, quote, enabling a cover-up, unquote,” said Mr. Oppal, a former appeal court judge and provincial cabinet minister. “That any such suggestion may have been made is disturbing. I take a dim view of any such suggestion having been made. There is absolutely no evidence that the commission may be, quote, enabling a cover-up, unquote.”

Mr. Ward jumped to his feet. “I was the counsel who made those comments and I’ve made similar comments in the hearing room in the past, and I’ll say them again now,” he declared. “I fear this commission is enabling a cover-up to be perpetrated on the public by the police interests.”

He recited a number of concerns his clients have. The Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP, he alleged, have not disclosed all relevant material from their Pickton investigations from 1997 to 2002, the period under consideration.

Ian Smith / Postmedia News files

The comment made about a cover-up in the Pickton case "is disturbing," Wally Oppal said.

Mr. Ward reminded the inquiry that its own expert witness, a senior Ontario police officer hired to review the Pickton investigations, testified last month “that she had no confidence she had all the relevant documents.”

Mr. Ward then made an issue of a 320-page manuscript about the Pickton investigation, written by VPD Detective Constable Lori Shenher. The manuscript was produced in 2002, the same year Pickton was finally apprehended, and five years before he went to trial on six counts of first degree murder.

Det. Const. Shenher was the VPD’s lead missing women investigator from 1998 to 2000 and had Pickton in her sights “the whole time,” the inquiry has heard.

She had hired a literary agent and had planned to publish a “true crime” book about Pickton, well before his trial. The matter was not raised at the inquiry until last week, when Mr. Ward quizzed Det. Const. Shenher about it.

She explained that she had written her manuscript in 2002 while on leave, as a “cathartic” exercise. The manuscript was to be published as a book in 2003, the commission has heard.

VPD officials have offered various explanations about the book project, even denying that it ever existed.

Postmedia News

Former Port Coquitlam RCMP officer Mike Connor

The Pickton manuscript may be an important record of events, and it should be disclosed to all inquiry participants, said Mr. Ward. “I’m still seeking production of that [manuscript], which on the face of it, must be a relevant document,” he told the inquiry commissioner on Monday.

“The police are indeed endeavouring to cover up this matter,” he said, “and I need to assist you, Mr. Commissioner, in taking all steps necessary that this cover up is not perpetuated further.”

VPD lawyer Tim Dixon called Mr. Ward’s allegations “spurious … The allegations of a police cover up are completely unfounded.” Acting for the federal government and the RCMP, lawyer Cheryl Tobias said that “Mr. Ward wants every shred of paper that exists, and that would cripple this inquiry.”

Minutes later, Mr. Ward rose to protest another matter and was shot down. “Thanks for telling me what steps we [should] take,” Mr. Oppal said sarcastically. “I really need your advice.” Mr. Ward left the room and did not return for the rest of the morning session.

The brouhaha erupted just as the inquiry was to hear from former RCMP officer Mike Connor, who had identified Pickton as a prime police suspect years before the Port Coquitlam pig farmer was finally arrested. Pickton was eventually convicted on six counts of second degree murder. He had lured sex trade workers from Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside and killed them on his farm before cutting them to pieces and disposing of their remains.

A former RCMP staff sergeant based in Coquitlam, Mr. Connor described for the inquiry how he had investigated Pickton for the attempted murder and unlawful confinement of a prostitute on the pig farm in 1997. Charges were laid, but a year later, B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch had them stayed. Pickton continued killing women.

A year later, thanks to information gleaned from a “credible” source named Bill Hiscox, police began to suspect that Pickton was responsible for Vancouver’s missing women. A plan was hatched to use Mr. Hiscox in an undercover operation, to be conducted on a Pickton associate. But by early 1999, Mr. Connor’s counterpart at the VPD — Det. Const. Shenher — was insisting that Mr. Hiscox was “unavailable,” the inquiry heard.

“We never did use him,” Mr. Connor testified Monday. “I was told we couldn’t use him because of other issues.” He seemed unsure what those issues were.

Mr. Ward has asked the inquiry to call Mr. Hiscox as a witness. Mr. Oppal has not yet ruled on the request, but a commission source has told the National Post that it will be denied.

The inquiry continues Tuesday with more testimony from Mr. Connor.

National Post



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Updated: August 21, 2016