Vancouver's DTES still a mess despite $1 million a day in spending: retired officer


VANCOUVER -- Various levels of government are putting $1 million a day worth of funding into Vancouver Downtown Eastside and it's still a mess, a retired senior officer told the Missing Women inquiry today.

"At one point I was told that the provincial and federal governments were putting $1 million a day into grants for the Downtown Eastside," former Vancouver police staff-set Chris Beach told Commissioner Wally Oppal.

"I would have expected a lot more results," he said.

"The Downtown Eastside was a mess when I started and it was a mess when I left," said the officer, who retired in 2005 after 30 years with the force.

"After the 31 years I've been down there, it's worse than ever," added retired VPD constable Dave Dickson.

They both agreed here needs to be more drug treatment programs to get people off the cycle of addiction, which in turn fuels property crime.

"There are six beds for drug-addicted females in this province," Beach pointed out.

The community needs to pull together to tackle the drug addiction issue, which is the root of the problem, he said.

Another former officer, Doug MacKay-Dunn, suggested there must be mandatory long-term drug treatment programs to break the addiction cycle.

In his experience working in the DTES, he said, women working in the street sex trade are so addicted to drugs that they can't even protect themselves from predators such as serial killer Robert Pickton.

"They're trapped," MacKay-Dunn said. "Their addiction is so severe, they can't even look after themselves."

He said some women are so "out of it" that they should be involuntarily committed to hospital for treatment.

"The solution is simple, but expensive," MacKay-Dunn said, adding the province needs to establish three drug treatment centres in B.C. - in Courtenay, Chilliwack and Prince George - to treat addicts.

Once they are off drugs, he said, they could go to the next stage and learn skills to get a job and regain self-esteem.

He said it's the only way to solve the problem of the Downtown Eastside, which is plagued by poverty and addiction.

The officers were part of a panel discussion at the inquiry to try to find solutions to the problems in Canada's poorest neighbourhood.

The panel also included retired former VPD deputy chief Gary Greer, who testified that the missing women issue was a difficult to investigate because there were no bodies ever found, so it was hard to justify for more resources.

He said Dave Dickson, who worked in the DTES, initially raised the issue that women seemed to be missing because they hadn't picked up their welfare cheques.

He said he discussed it with MacKay-Dunn, who asked geographic profile Kim Rossmo to do a statistical analysis to try to get a handle on the issue.

MacKay-Dunn recalled Rossmo came back a few days later and said, "There's a statistical anomaly here,"

Greer said he then created an ad-hoc "working group" to try to see if they could find some hard facts.

Rossmo had drafted a press release in September 1998, which contained a public warning that a possible serial killer was preying on DTES sex trade workers.

But Insp. Fred Biddlecombe, the officer in charge of major crime, which included the homicide and missing persons sections, lost his temper at the meeting, Greer recalled.

He added that Biddlecombe angrily said, "Don't tell me how to do my job" and he was upset that the working group was encroaching on his territory.

"We were trying to determine what happened to these missing women," Greer recalled.

But the group disbanded after Biddlecombe' said he wasn't going to share information about missing persons or unsolved homicides with the working group, he said.

Greer recalled Biddlecombe was upset about someone leaking information to the media about the missing women and felt it was someone from the ad-hoc working group.

Despite disbanding the group, the officers continued investigating how many women were missing and compiling a list.

"We carried on every day speaking to the community," Greer recalled.

"I'm so sorry we didn't get the job done," MacKay-Dunn said of the VPD efforts to solve the case.

Earlier today, Robyn Gervais, the lawyer representing aboriginal interests, announced she was withdrawing from the inquiry.

She plans to address the inquiry Tuesday morning to explain her reasons for her withdrawal.

In a statement issued Monday, Gervais cited "the delay in calling aboriginal witnesses, the failure to provide adequate hearing time for aboriginal panels, the lack of ongoing support from the aboriginal community and the disproportionate focus on police evidence" as her reasons for withdrawal.

"This inquiry is fundamentally about missing and murdered women, a disproportionate number of whom were aboriginal. Despite 38 days of police testimony, the commission has yet to hear from an aboriginal witness," her statement said.

"As I leave, I regret that I could not find a way to bring the voices of the missing and murdered aboriginal women before the commissioner," Gervais said.

The inquiry appointed Ms. Gervais as independent counsel on Aug.11 last year. She was appointed after the provincial government refused to fund legal services to first nations groups, who all withdrew.

She is Metis and previously represented the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council at the inquiry before the group withdrew because of lack of legal funding.

Senior Vancouver lawyer Bryan Baynham of Harper Grey LLP provided pro bono counsel to Gervais.

The inquiry opened Monday with an application made by senior lawyer Darrell Roberts, the lawyer for Marion Bryce, whose daughter Patricia Johnson was a victim of Pickton.

He argued that one of the fundamental errors in the Vancouver police investigation was failing to recognize and investigate the crimes of kidnapping and the subsequent murder of women disappearing from the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Roberts is urging that more Vancouver police officers in the chain of command be heard soon before the inquiry runs out of time.

He said the inquiry needs to hear the testimony of Deputy Chief Brian McGuinness, Staff Sgt. Brock Giles and Sgt. Geramy Field.

He said that VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard testified earlier that the murders of the women occurred on Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam, so they were the responsibility of the Coquitlam RCMP to investigate.

But Roberts pointed out today to Commissioner Wally Oppal that the VPD offered a $100,000 reward in 1999 for the crimes of unlawful confinement, kidnapping and murder of the missing women.

He said Vancouver police investigated compelling tips in 1998 and 1999 about Pickton possibly being responsible for the missing women, but the VPD "wasted" that evidence by not accepting responsibility for crimes being committed in Vancouver.

"This inquiry has been off the rails from the very beginning," Roberts said, adding it has taken four months for the inquiry to confirm that the crimes that the VPD had a duty to investigate were unlawful confinement, kidnapping and murder.

LePard testified that police did not know where Pickton formed his intent to kill the women.

Roberts made an application to have LePard recalled as a witness.

And he asked that a new commissioner of inquiry be chosen to hear LePard's further testimony.

The inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, who was arrested in 2002.

A rookie Mountie, unrelated to a joint VPD-RCMP investigation, called Project Evenhanded, got a search warrant to check Pickton's farm for illegal guns. He found the guns but also discovered identification and personal items in Pickton's home belonging to missing women.

Police then got another search warrant to search for evidence of murders.

The forensic search - the largest in Canadian history - went on for 18 months and found the remains and DNA of 33 missing women.

Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Mike Connor had investigated a 1997 knife attack by Pickton on a prostitute from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The woman slashed Pickton with a knife and survived after running to the street and flagging down a passing car.

Pickton was charged with attempted murder and unlawful confinement but those charges were dropped in 1998 by the Crown, who felt the victim was unreliable because she was a drug addict.

The same year, the VPD received a series of tips that Pickton may be responsible for the dozens of missing women.

Informants told VPD Const. Lori Shenher that Pickton had bags of women's bloody clothing and women's identification, which he kept as "trophies" of his crimes, and bragged that he could dispose of bodies.

The most shocking tip was that a woman staying with Pickton one night had witnessed Pickton butchering a woman's body in his barn, where Pickton often butchered pigs.

Connor investigated the tips passed along by VPD but was taken off the case when he was promoted and transferred to become on patrol supervisor.

The inquiry heard earlier how the Pickton investigation by Coquitlam RCMP stalled after RCMP Cpl. Frank Henley interviewed the woman who supposedly saw Pickton with a dead body. The woman, Lynn Ellingsen, denied everything.

Henley didn't believe Pickton was a killer, the inquiry was told earlier.

The inquiry began last Oct. 11 and must submit its report to government by the end of June.

Pickton was convicted of six murders at his first trial in 2007.

The day he was arrested, Pickton confessed to his jail cell mate - an undercover officer - that he killed 49 women.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016