VPD handling of missing person reports has radically changed, forum told


VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver police department's handling of missing persons reports has changed radically in the last 10 years, a senior VPD officer told a Missing Women public policy forum today.

A report of a missing person deemed high-risk -- sex workers from the Downtown Eastside are considered at the top of the high-risk list -- now results in the VPD issuing a press release within 10 minutes, Insp. Brad Desmarais told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.

A missing case that is considered a potential case of foul play is immediately assigned to a team of eight homicide detectives to investigate, he added.

"Mr. commissioner, there have been a lot of changes over the last little while," Desmarais said. "Things have radically changed."

And officers chosen to investigate missing persons cases are selected for their aptitude to probe cases of missing people, said Desmarais, who is in charge of the major crime section, which oversees the VPD's missing persons unit.

"I'm briefed every morning on missings that are still out there," he said.

The police department's senior managers are also briefed every morning about who has been reported missing and what files remain outstanding, Desmarais added.

He said the VPD had a solve rate of 99.9 per cent in the last 10 years.

"There have been a lot of improvements, but we've got a way to go," Desmarais told Oppal.

He suggested there needs to be a toll-free 1-800 established to report missing persons.

And there needs to be a single point of contact for both the police agency investigating the missing person and also the family, in order to reduce confusion.

Families should also be able to communicate with investigators over the Internet, Desmarais said.

He said there also needs to be legislation to allow police to immediately check a person's bank records to see if there has been activity.

He also suggested legislation to clearly set out what police agency should investigate a person reported missing.

The current protocol, he said, is for the police agency to investigate in a jurisdiction where the person was last seen.

He gave an example of a person last seen using their bank card at an bank machine, but then investigators learn the person was later seen walking over the bridge to North Vancouver, so VPD hands on the file.

"The file can get handed from agency to agency," Desmarais said.

"We need legislation in this province setting out who investigates what."

Today's Missing Women public policy forum is taking place in Vancouver at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Room 420, 580 West Hastings Street.

The topic: Improving Missing Person Practices.

The forum can be watched online at:

The inquiry has heard the testimony of families members about how difficult it was to report loved ones missing and how police were slow to investigate, taking months to confirm the person was not temporarily missing.

"I was dealt with horribly and my family was dealt with horribly," Lori-Ann Ellis, the sister-in-law of Cara Ellis, one the suspected victims of serial killer Robert Pickton, told the forum today.

The policy forums will continue this week at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue.

The inquiry, which began hearings last Oct. 11, will resume hearing testimony on May 9.

There are 13 remaining witnesses to be heard.

The inquiry is probing why police didn't catch Pickton sooner.

He was arrested in 2002, despite Vancouver police receiving extensive tips about Pickton in 1998 and 1999, including a person who told police that a woman had unexpectedly witnessed Pickton one night butchering a woman's body in his barn at the Pickton family farm in Port Coquitlam.

Vancouver police passed along the tips to Coquitlam RCMP, which was investigating Pickton after a Vancouver sex worker was attacked on the Pickton farm but escaped.

Pickton was charged with the attempted murder of the woman but the charges were dropped a year later because the Crown found the victim, a drug addict, was too strung out to testify days before the trial was to start.

Pickton was convicted of six murders in 2007 but once confided that he killed 49 women.

Police found the remains and DNA of 33 women on Pickton's farm.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016