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
“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
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
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
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.
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