VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Case reviewer says police brass must answer for length of Pickton's killing spree
BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE JANUARY 16, 2012
The Ontario police chief who did a detailed review of the flawed police investigation into Robert Pickton found officers made mistakes but concluded police chiefs were ultimately responsible.
Peel, Ont. Regional Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans told the Missing Women Inquiry Monday that police managers “ultimately” must answer for how Pickton was able, for decades, to take women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside out to his Port Coquitlam farm, where dozens were slaughtered before his arrest in Feb. 2002.
Although junior Vancouver Police Department officers and Coquitlam RCMP officers shared their suspicions about Pickton with each other as early as 1998 Evans said she saw no evidence that police leaders or chiefs in either jurisdiction or force “picked up the phone”to speak to each other.
Not until 2001 was a joint task force set up and even then it was primarily a paper review.
Evans, who also did a public review of the case of Ontario rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo, testified she saw many unfortunate parallels between the Bernardo and Pickton police probes.
Evans said both murderers “travelled across multiple jurisdictions,” in Pickton’s case, between Vancouver and Coquitlam. She said in both cases there was a “breakdown in communications between police services”and “no mechanicsm for the police to track and maintain information received.”
Nor did Evans see “a system in place for consistent follow-up by (police) management.”
In her lengthy report, Evans grouped the police investigations into four main themes: lack of “recognition and ownership of the missing women issue,” by police leaders; a “breakdown in communication” both internally and between police forces, lack of leadership and resources, and poor major case management.
But Evans told Commissioner Wally Oppal that while she found evidence of mistakes by officers, she did not find any “neglect of duty, deceit, corruption” and nor was that her goal. Rather she emphasized that both Bernardo and Pickton “fell through the cracks” and were able to keep killing women due to “systemic weaknesses and the inability of law enforcement agencies to pool information.”
In fact, Evans noted that a young, objective student hired in 2001 to summarize police files on the burgeoning “missing women” issue in Vancouver, was the first to warn that there appeared to be not only multiple historic murders but that a serial killer existed, and he very likely was still active.
Student Brian Oger, 22, asked “a very important question,” noted Evans. He asked “What if the serial killer who we thought was dominant, dead, or in jail, is still out and about, killing at will?”
Evans said she thought Oger’s report was “compelling” and articulate, but also “well-intentioned and written not as criticism but to raise attention to the magnitude of the problem.” Oger said he was writing his report not to leak to the media or bludgeon police for past mistakes, but to push for action.
However, Oger was ignored, at least until his report was later leaked to the media and police insisted on polygraphing Oger. He was insulted and the polygraph confirmed he was not the leak.
Meanwhile, other compelling tips and even an eyewitness, Lynn Ellingsen, had surfaced but leaders in both the VPD and RCMP did not agree on how to proceed and how to keep tabs on the growing body of information.
One RCMP officer thought Ellingsen should be arrested as a suspect and compelled to undergo a polygraphy after she “blew off” police interrogators and denied what she had told three individuals. Those three people all went to police to tell them Ellingsen had graphically described seeing Pickton butcher a woman hanging from a hook in his Port Coquitlam barn.
But it wasn’t until Feb., 2002 that an astute but junior RCMP Cst. Nathan Wells wrote up a firearms search warrant to get police onto the Pickton farm and multiple pieces of evidence of the missing and murdered women were soon discovered.
Evans, a career police officer, denied Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward’s suggestion that the police investigation was stymied by a “culture of sexism and misogyny” in both the VPD and the RCMP.
“I saw no evidence of that,” Evans replied.
Evans also denied that she saw any evidence that police officers considered the dozens of missing Vancouver sex trade workers as “throwaways” or not worthy of a well-resourced and thorough police investigation.
© Copyright (c) The Province
Updated: August 21, 2016