Constable details crass behavior of officers at missing women inquiry

VANCOUVER - Globe and Mail
Thursday, February 02, 2012

Two Vancouver cops involved in the missing women investigation made their office unlivable by recounting racist tales, such as dumping flour over the head of a Vietnamese man and joking that “now, you’re white,” the Pickton inquiry has heard.

During her fourth day of testimony, Detective Constable Lori Shenher told the inquiry Thursday that working in the office of the Vancouver police missing women unit was uncomfortable, especially after Detective Constables Doug Fell and Mark Wolthers recounted an episode of their role in an earlier drug arrest.

Det. Constables Fell and Wolthers told a story about searching a residence of a Vietnamese man. “At some point, they were going through the kitchen cabinets and they pulled out a bag of white flour,” she said.

“They are telling us this story, and they said they dumped it on this man’s head and said, ‘there you go. Now you’re white. What do you think of that?’ and they’re laughing,” Det. Constable Shenher said.

Det. Constable Alex Clarke, another officer working on the missing women case, was in the office with her at that time. They were “just absolutely stunned that [Det. Constables Fell and Wolthers] would do this, and that they would relate this stuff and think this is something we would find in any way acceptable or funny or anything else,” Det. Constable Shenher said.

“That was the climate in the room,” she said.

Det. Constables Fell and Wolthers were assigned to the missing women’s review team from May, 1999 to June 2000. They often used obscenities and discriminatory language when talking about sex trade workers¸ deputy chief Doug LePard has previously told the inquiry.

Their conduct impaired the investigation team’s ability to do their work but neither officer was ever disciplined, deputy chief LePard testified. He was not sure what managers at that time knew about them, he said.

The detectives are expected to testify at the inquiry later this year.

Det. Constable Shenher, who was working on the missing women case from July, 1998 to November, 2000, told the inquiry she spoke to her supervisor, Sergeant Geramy Field, about the incident involving the Vietnamese man but did not make any notes.

“I recall saying at the time, ‘I cannot believe you guys.’ Both [Det. Constable] Clarke and I were shocked,” she said.

Det. Constable Shenher, who had joined the Vancouver police force in 1991, said she did not feel she could challenge the two detectives, who had been police officers for much longer.

“I really, for the most part, tried to carry on without dealing with them,” she said.

Later Thursday, Det. Constable Shenher was critical of the two detectives for failing to tell her that three women from the Downtown Eastside had identified Mr. Pickton in photos that Det. Constables Fell and Wolthers showed them in April, 2000.

The inquiry has previously heard that the two detectives were showing photos of several men including Mr. Pickton to sex-trade workers in order to identify possible suspects in the case. At that time, the Vancouver police investigation had stalled and police mistakenly believed that women were no longer going missing from the Downtown Eastside.

The identification of Mr. Pickton by three sex-trade workers would have “kick started,” the investigation, she said.

However, Det. Constables Fell and Wolthers never said they found out that Mr. Pickton had been in the Downtown Eastside, she said.

The provincial inquiry was appointed in September, 2010 to look into why Mr. Pickton was not arrested before February, 2002. The inquiry has heard that police began receiving tips pointing to Mr. Pickton in 1998. Mr. Pickton is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of six women. He once said he killed 49 women.

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Updated: August 21, 2016