After over seven months of hearings into the police investigations of women that went missing from the Downtown Eastside in the years before Robert Pickton’s arrest, the B.C. missing women inquiry wrapped up today amid criticism from some family members of the serial killer’s victims.
But Commissioner Wally Oppal told reporters following the final submissions at the inquiry that he is confident he heard from enough witnesses to make findings of fact and recommendations on the issue.
“We’ve called all the evidence that I feel in my mind is necessary to come to proper conclusions,” Oppal told reporters following the inquiry.
The commissioner made his remarks shortly after some family members of missing and murdered women spoke out against the process.
“This was a waste of eight months for us,” Bridget Perrier told reporters as she stood beside a group of family members. “We still have unanswered questions.”
Downtown Eastside groups, families of Pickton victims and other supporters formed a circle in the middle of the intersection of Granville and Georgia Streets earlier in the day. Among the speakers at the event was Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who criticized what he called “the legions of police officials” that testified at the inquiry.
“The only lawyer[s] that had an opportunity to challenge the legions of police officials [were] Cameron Ward and Robyn Gervais, and they were attacked by that pack of high-paid, high-priced police lawyers, those legal hyenas,” he charged.
Lori-Ann Ellis travelled from Calgary to sit in on the inquiry each day since it began last October. She told reporters the process has left her feeling “a great sadness”.
“I don’t think the inquiry went in the direction it should have gone in, and I don’t think the information that we really needed to hear got out there to the public’s ears,” she said.
“I’m pretty frustrated. I’m going to go home and I’m going to try to remember with a lot of work what normal feels like.”
Ellis said she has been dedicated to the case since 1998, when she walked the Downtown Eastside searching for her sister-in-law, Cara Ellis, whose remains were found on Pickton’s farm.
She added that she is still hoping the inquiry will produce a meaningful set of recommendations.
“This could be like an earthquake of change for this province and the city, and a lot depends on how that report is written. If it’s written as shoddily as the inquiry was handled, God bless all those women out there, because that’s going to be their only hope,” she said.
“But if the report is written in such a way that it really does bring forward some positive recommendations, then all the tears that were shed in there were worth it.”
Oppal has been given until October 31, 2012 to complete his report and submit it to the B.C. government. The commissioner said today the process has been “a difficult exercise”.
“We were involved here in investigating the policing of the worst mass murderer in Canadian history,” he said.
“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.”
Oppal described the inquiry as the first opportunity in which the families of the missing and murdered women have had a chance to be heard.
“I’m satisfied that we’re doing the right thing, I’m satisfied that we’ll come up with a positive report, so that we can make policing better, so that we can ensure that those people that haven’t been listened to will be listened to in the future,” he said.
The commissioner recalled the impact of hearing some of the testimony of the families.
“I saw the looks of those women who testified before us—Lori-Ann Ellis and all of those women who came before us and told us about not seeing their loved ones again,” he said. “That had a deep impact on me— it was heart-wrenching to hear that evidence.”
The inquiry began on October 11, 2011, and consisted of 92 days of hearings, 83 witnesses, and 280 exhibits.
The commission of inquiry’s mandate included examining the police investigations of missing women in Vancouver between 1997 and Pickton’s arrest in 2002.
Pickton was eventually convicted in the second-degree murders of six women. The DNA or remains of 33 women were found on his Port Coquitlam farm.
Oppal’s report is expected to be released publicly shortly after the October deadline.