From Airbus to Pickton, Cameron has been there

The Daily Gleaner

Published Saturday October 4th, 2008

Chris Fox

Stevie Cameron is a newspaper journalist turned TV host turned author. She has written two books on the Airbus scandal - On the Take and the Last Amigo - and is credited with helping to break the case open. ore recently she has been living in Vancouver covering the trial of Robert Pickton, the notorious serial killer convicted of killing several sex trade workers in the city's Downtown Eastside. Her first book on the case, The Pickton File, came out last year and she says she'll release another as soon as a second trial planned ends and the publication ban is lifted.

Reporter Chris Fox recently had a chance to catch up with her and her dog, Frances, on the campus of St. Thomas University, where she will be for the next two months as the school's visiting chair in journalism.


Q: What was the last movie you saw and the last concert you went to.

A: The most recent movie I saw was Mama Mia, which I watched at the cottage this summer, and I have to do the most recent TV show I watched because my daughter is the most senior writer on the show, and that is Flashpoint. It's a cop drama and it was the most successful new show on American television this summer.


Q: Tell me about putting together the Airbus story.

A: I knew the Airbus deal was crooked. All of Ottawa was talking about it, but everyone was so scared of the Tories that no libel lawyer would let anyone publish it.

So what happened was I wrote one or two pieces about Schreiber in the Globe and Mail because I knew I was on to him, I knew he was the guy, I just didn't know very much about him.

After that I went into various newspaper databases and suddenly Schreiber's name sprang up as the guy who was Strauss's guy in Alberta and Strauss was one of the most powerful politicians in Germany at the time and the chairman of Airbus, as I found out after looking at him a bit.

Suddenly it all started to come together and I went into the German newspapers and found a reporter in Munich who had written a lot about Schreiber and Strauss and I faxed him looking for information and he wrote me right back saying there was a big story breaking and that the guy that used to work for Schreiber was talking to the media and would talk to me. I couldn't get it into On the Take, it was too late, but I just thought, 'that will be my next book.' I knew I was on to something and I knew I had finally got the tale of the story.


Q: I heard that an anonymous handwritten note first tipped you off. What role did the note play in piecing together the story?

A: I had already heard about this guy Schreiber, but I didn't pay much attention to him until I got that tip and then I started digging into him. It was the first tip I got and it proved to be pretty accurate. It wasn't enough to print, it wasn't enough to do anything with and it was years before I even made it public, but it got things started for me.


Q: Did you ever figure out who it was from?

A: No, I never knew who gave me that tip. You could tell he tried very hard to disguise his handwriting. It could have been a woman, a man, I don't know.


Q: In 2003 the Globe and Mail ran several stories accusing you of acting as a police informant during your coverage of the airbus scandal. How did you feel when you first picked up the paper and saw your face on the cover?

A: I was thunderstruck by it. I didn't know anything about it and then I found out through my lawyers that I was coded as an informant. It was just a horrible ordeal.

I had never hidden the fact that the Mounties interviewed me. They interviewed every reporter that had ever worked on the story, but they had coded me and I couldn't understand why.


Q: You've spent a good chunk of your professional life writing about politicians and white collar criminals, and then in 2002 you decided to cover the Robert Pickton trial. Why?

A: I had had enough of Mulroney and Schreiber and my agent called me and said Connaught wanted me to do a book on the Pickton case and I said 'I'll do it.' I am fascinated by serial killers and I just thought I had to do that book. Plus it was in Vancouver and it was about women in the Downtown Eastside and I had been working with homeless women in Toronto for years and years, so I knew about homelessness and addiction.


Q: What is your impression of Robert Pickton, the person?

A: There are two sides to him. On one hand he wants to be everybody's friend and if you got your car stuck in the ditch he would be the first person to help you, but he liked killing women and he liked prostitutes and he couldn't get anybody any other way. He stank, he was disgusting to look at, he would come into court with this greasy hair that he put butter in that would go rancid. He was gross.


Q: During the trial there was much made of the graphic nature of some of the proceedings. Was there any point when you wondered if you could keep on writing about such a heinous story?

A: No. It was heartbreaking, but it was totally absorbing. It's the biggest criminal case in Canadian history, it's the most expensive, and it's the biggest crime scene in Canadian history, so it is such a rich story.

The hardest part in terms of the horror of it all was the preliminary hearing, which nobody heard about because it was under publication ban. It lasted for seven months and I attended every day of it, and many reporters spoke openly about getting psychiatric help, and that was the worst year for me, but it was still just so interesting.


Q: A lot of people say this particular case shouldn't be covered by the media because of its gruesome nature. What is your response?

A: What if we don't print any of this because this is gross or this is disgusting? Then what do the lives of these women mean? Don't they matter? Shouldn't their stories be told? So they died in an ugly way, it doesn't mean they should become anonymous.


Q: So do you see yourself as an advocate for these women?

A: To an extent I guess. I don't think one of these women wasn't abused. There is a reason these women are on drugs and are on the street and are prostitutes. They are women from every walk of life, every range of family income, but I would say every single one of them was abused either by family members or their boyfriends, and I want that to be known.

Freelance reporter Chris Fox is a journalism student at St. Thomas University. Q&A appears each Saturday.

2008 CanadaEast Interactive, Brunswick News Inc. All rights reserved.




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