Eight months after they began, hearings into police failures to arrest British Columbia serial killer Robert Pickton earlier wrapped up on June 6 much as they began: with outraged families and aboriginal groups protesting and drumming outside.
Commissioner Wally Oppal, heading the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, has been granted an extension until October 31 to report on why Pickton was caught five years after he was in police sights for the disappearances of mainly aboriginal sex workers from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside—an oversight that allowed him to kill dozens more before being apprehended.
“This is a dirty shame,” said Bridget Perrier, stepmother of Angel Wolfe, whose mother was killed on Pickton’s farm. “This was a sham, a waste of our time. In Canada, you’re allowed to murder by race and class. These women—these families—need justice.”
The mother of Pickton victim Stephanie Lane said she is “absolutely” convinced of a police cover-up or conspiracy, citing revelations that prosecutors destroyed key documents, and Oppal’s rejection of dozens of police witnesses and informants, or to allow discussion of Pickton’s links to organized crime. Oppal admitted on June 9 to meeting a Hells Angels member at a public event, saying it was an accident.
“There’s so many unanswered questions,” said Michele Pineault. “Look at all the documents they lost…. It seems too convenient.”
But Oppal insisted he has enough evidence to make recommendations.
“We’ve called all the evidence that I feel in my mind is necessary to come to proper conclusions,” Oppal said. “We were involved here in investigating the policing of the worst mass murderer in Canadian history. That, almost by definition, means that emotions ran high, people were upset, people were angry, but we have to live with that when we’re investigating something of this magnitude.”
Lawyers for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) – both of which apologized to victims’ families—traded blame in closing arguments.
“Coquitlam RCMP’s failure to pursue the Pickton investigation with the vigour and the resources it required is really the heart of the police force’s failings in relation to the tragedy of the missing women,” said VPD lawyer Tim Dickson.
“The delay was mostly, if not entirely, due to the delay that occurred in the management in the (VPD) coming to realize that a serial offender likely was involved,” retorted RCMP lawyer Cheryl Tobias. “They were in the best place to see what was happening in the Downtown Eastside. If women disappeared from there, that was their place.”
Meanwhile, the B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch (CJB) defended its 1998 decision to drop attempted murder charges against Pickton, after he stabbed a sex worker nearly to death; it argued the victim was drug addicted and incoherent.
CJB lawyer Len Doust told Oppal that regardless, he is not legally allowed to criticize Crown prosecutors, citing the “constitutionally enshrined principle of prosecutorial independence.”
“This isn’t just the Crown trying to duck and hide,” Doust said. “This kind of protection is essential to the proper functioning of our system of criminal justice.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said the inquiry was “fraudulent” because B.C. refused to fund lawyers for human rights, aboriginal and women’s groups. He attacked the dozens of “high-paid, high-placed police lawyers” for profiting from the inquiry.
“Those legal hyenas (are) parasites that prey on the poverty on the marginalized people of the Downtown Eastside,” Phillip said. “This inquiry was a complete whitewash.”