Family, friends of missing women await Pickton appeal decision on Thursday




Sandra Gagnon holds a photo of her missing sister, Janet Henry, in this 2004 filel photo.

Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun files

VANCOUVER -- It was nearly 12 years ago that Sandra Gagnon last heard from her sister Janet Henry, whose face is one of 64 on a police poster of women missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

So it is with a heavy heart that Gagnon will attend the B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver on Thursday to learn the fate of Robert (Willie) Pickton, who was convicted of killing six of the missing women and is charged in the deaths of another 20.

Henry is among the 38 women whose whereabouts remain unknown, but many of whose relatives and friends have carefully followed the Pickton proceedings.

“It’s really tough because it’s Janet’s anniversary,” Gagnon said. “I feel a bit of anxiety because you never know how [the appeal court decision] is going to go.

“And we still haven’t found Janet. My family and I are still in limbo. We don’t have any answers about where she is.”

Three B.C. Court of Appeal justices are set to rule at 10:30 a.m. Thursday on appeals by the Crown and the defence, which were heard during a nine-day hearing in late March and early April this year.

Defence lawyer Gil McKinnon argued Pickton’s six second-degree murder convictions should be overturned because a B.C. Supreme Court judge made an error during his charge to the jury and while answering a question by the jury during the 2007 trial.

The Crown’s position was that if Pickton’s six convictions are upheld, prosecutors will not proceed with a second trial on the remaining 20 counts. Pickton, 60, would then continue to serve his life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

But if the appeal court rules in Pickton’s favour and orders a new trial, the Crown wants to proceed on all 26 counts of first-degree murder.

Regardless of how the appeal court rules, the Crown or defence is expected to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which would drag these legal proceedings out even longer.

“You know when you hold your breath, and hold your breath, and hold it so long it hurts? That’s what it feels like,” a frustrated Maggy Gisle said Wednesday.

Gisle followed the trial closely because she was friends with four of the six women Pickton was convicted of killing, in particular Georgina Papin, who died in 1999. But she was also good pals with Cara Ellis, one of the other 20 women Pickton is accused of murdering, and whose case will never be tried if there is no second trial.

So for Gisle, there is no clear victory that could come out of the appeal court today.

“I’d like to see the remaining 20 go to trial because if not, the victims and the family members are denied a due process, which is everybody’s right,” she said.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, Judy Trimble, Cara Ellis’s mother, is hoping Pickton wins his appeal because she wants him to be tried for her daughter’s murder.

“I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and keeping my hopes up that he’s going to win his appeal, then there will be another trial and he will be tried for all 26,” Trimble said.

Vancouver criminal lawyer Mark Jette, who is not involved in Pickton’s appeal, said the defence’s appeal bid will be successful only if the appeal court is convinced Pickton’s trial judge did make errors in law, and that those errors were significant enough to have changed the verdict.

Jette used as an analogy the case of Kelly Ellard, who was convicted of killing Reena Virk in her third trial in B.C. Supreme Court. The BC Court of Appeal overturned that verdict, ruling errors in law had been made. But the Supreme Court of Canada restored the guilty verdict earlier this month, concluding the errors were not serious enough to have altered the verdict.

If the three judges split, the losing side has the automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. If the ruling is unanimous, the losing side has to seek leave to appeal.



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

Updated: August 21, 2016