Victimís families to sue Pickton, police

B.C. serial murders: Authorities accused of not responding seriously to concerns

Ian Bailey
National Post

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

VANCOUVER - A lawyer representing the family of one of 50 missing women is planning to launch lawsuits against police and the man accused of murdering six of the women.

Denis Berntsen, a Victoria lawyer, has set up a 1-800 number to gather information for the suits, which he said will take years to work their way through the courts.

"We're interested in gathering more information about what information was available to police as we build a timeline about what happened," Mr. Berntsen said yesterday.

Mr. Berntsen is also planning to sue Robert Pickton, suspected in the disappearance of the 50 women, most of whom were addicts or prostitutes who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside since 1983.

Both suits will be filed early next week in British Columbia Supreme Court on behalf of the families of one of the missing women -- 39 of whom vanished in the past six years.

Mr. Berntsen refused yesterday to identify the family he represents, but said their identities will become clear when documents are filed in court.

He said the suit will, for now, remain vague about the fate of the missing women not yet named in any indictment.

Mr. Pickton, a resident of suburban Port Coquitlam, about 30 kilometres east of Vancouver, is to appear in court by video hookup today on six counts of first-degree murder. Police have not ruled out further charges.

One of Mr. Berntsen's lawsuits is expected to name Vancouver Police, the RCMP and City of Vancouver, claiming damages for wilful harm and negligence because police were too slow to act on the concerns of family members and investigate the disappearances.

"The families we have spoken to all have a similar concern about whether this needed to happen to the extent this did," said Mr. Berntsen, who said he has spoken to the families of 10 of the women.

The City of Port Coquitlam may also be added to the suit, said Mr. Berntsen, noting "they are being assessed as a potential party."

Family members have called for a public inquiry, suggesting that police did not respond seriously to their concerns, allowing the toll of missing women to expand before police sealed off Mr. Pickton's property and arrested him in February.

The Missing Women Joint Task Force, which has been investigating the mystery since last April, has acknowledged the families' concerns, referring to reports that some planned to bring a U.S. lawyer to Vancouver to assess the situation.

"We respect their right to do whatever they feel is necessary," Detective Scott Driemel, of the Vancouver force, said last week. "We also understand that these are very emotional times for many."

Mr. Berntsen said the suit that targets the 52-year-old Mr. Pickton is unusual, because most defendants in such cases lack funds to pay any damages. However, Mr. Pickton's family is wealthy from interests in land and a demolition business.

"Mr. Pickton certainly does have the funds and that makes it feasible to go ahead in this regard," said Mr. Berntsen.

He expects it will take years for the suits to be concluded, but is prepared for the wait.

"This is probably not going to be resolved until after the criminal matter is going to be resolved," said Mr. Berntsen.

"There's a tremendous amount of work to be done, so [we] won't be sitting around, idly waiting."

He said he is wary about interfering with the police investigation, which continues to involve dozens of officers.

Although police have said their ongoing investigation continues to target "hundreds of potential other suspects," to date they have only named Mr. Pickton.

© Copyright 2002 National Post


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