Missing Women inquiry workers paid more than BCs longest serving judges


VANCOUVER — Public hearings ended months ago but work continues behind the scenes at the controversial Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, where lawyers and other handpicked staff members continue to bill B.C. taxpayers at rates that former inquiry participants claim are “outrageous” and “out of control.”

The province’s latest public accounts record reveals that senior inquiry workers including commissioner Wally Oppal commanded more pay in the last fiscal year than B.C.’s most highly compensated public servants, including its longest-serving judges, provincial cabinet ministers and their deputies, and all but a handful of top Crown corporation executives.

Senior commission counsel Art Vertlieb topped the list, charging the province $483,741 for inquiry work performed in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012. Associate counsel Karey Brooks and her Vancouver-based law firm billed taxpayers $482,139 over the same period. Mr. Oppal, meanwhile, charged $324,267, according to the public accounts.

Jessica McKeachie, a first-year lawyer whom Mr. Oppal hired to conduct research, billed the province $203,134. Another young inquiry lawyer with three years’ experience charged taxpayers $236,606 for her work.

Inquiry executive director John Boddie, a former Vancouver Police Department (VPD) sergeant who handles office administration duties for the commission, billed the province $299,807. That’s twice the amount billed over 12 months by the executive director at the recently concluded Braidwood Commissions of Inquiry, called to examine the use of Tasers by B.C. police forces and the 2007 death of Polish traveller Robert Dziekanski.

Ultimately, the small staff of the Commission worked very long hours, most weekends and holidays

Mr. Boddie’s renumeration was close to VPD chief constable Jim Chu’s annual paypacket, and exceeded almost all provincial bureaucrat salaries. Only John Dyble, deputy minister to B.C. premier Christy Clark and head of the province’s entire public service, was paid more.

For reasons that no one has explained, Mr. Boddie billed the province via his wife’s company, Paula Boddie & Associates.

In contrast, the lawyer who represented the families of 25 murdered and missing women at the inquiry billed the province $60,000 for work in the same fiscal year. Another Vancouver-based lawyer, Jason Gratl, billed $143,100 for his work at the inquiry; he represented local community interests. The amount covered his own fees and expenses, plus the services of an assistant and an articling student, he explained. Unlike inquiry lawyers and staff, who billed by the hour, Mr. Gratl was paid a flat monthly fee. “It worked out to something like legal aid rates,” he added.

One lawyer who played a key role at the inquiry called the amounts charged by inquiry staff “outrageous.” And a lawyer who worked for the inquiry and was familiar with its internal accounting practices said there did not appear to be any “checks and balances…it seemed out of control.” Both spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a written statement, Mr. Vertlieb noted that rates of pay “were discounted from normal market rates and agreed to by the government. We have always been very conscious of the fact that this important Commission is funded by the public. Ultimately, the small staff of the Commission worked very long hours, most weekends and holidays.”

The Braidwood inquiries — one examined police use of Tasers in general, a second the Dziekanski Taser death — cost taxpayers an estimated $4.5-million in total. Mr. Oppal’s inquiry has already cost the province $7.85-million, according to B.C. attorney general Shirley Bond, and the meter is still running. Some inquiry staff — including Mr. Oppal, Mr. Vertlieb and Mr. Boddie — remain on the job and continue to bill for their services. Mr. Oppal has until Oct. 31 to deliver his final report to B.C.’s attorney general.

The inquiry was formed in September, 2010, with a mandate to examine why the VPD and the RCMP failed to apprehend serial killer Robert Pickton prior to 2002, by which time he had allegedly murdered at least 26 women. Pickton was convicted on six counts of second degree murder in 2007; 20 other murder charges were later stayed.

We have always been very conscious of the fact that this important Commission is funded by the public

Seven community forums were held in September, 2011. Evidentiary hearings began in October and ended in June amidst controversy and anger; families of Pickton’s victims said the inquiry didn’t probe deeply enough into police conduct.

Mr. Oppal was a controversial choice for inquiry commissioner. A former B.C. Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judge, he turned to provincial politics and was elected to represent a Vancouver riding in 2005. He served as the province’s attorney general during the Pickton trial. Mr. Oppal was not re-elected in the 2009 provincial election.

Mr. Vertlieb, his chief counsel at the inquiry, is an experienced Vancouver litigator and is currently vice-president of the B.C. Law Society, the body that governs the legal profession in the province. Mr. Vertlieb also served as senior counsel at the Braidwood inquiries, where his billings never exceeded $271,000 per fiscal year.

To date, Mr. Vertlieb has charged the province a total of $1,222,250 for his work at the Braidwood and Oppal inquiries.

During an interview conducted in March, Mr. Boddie told the National Post that he “takes no holidays” from the inquiry, even during scheduled breaks. He had just returned from a week-long trip to Arizona, where he said he spent his time reading inquiry documents.

National Post




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

Updated: August 21, 2016