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Executive director of Missing Women inquiry put on leave while probe conducted

BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN  APRIL 5, 2012

VANCOUVER John Boddie, the executive director of the Missing Women inquiry, has gone on leave while two lawyers have been retained to investigate allegations that arose this week about sexism and conflict among inquiry staff.

The head of the Missing Women inquiry, Wally Oppal, announced Thursday that he has appointed a second lawyer, Peter Gall, who will be involved in the probe of anonymous allegations made by former inquiry staff.

Gall said in an interview that Boddie, a former Vancouver police officer, went on paid leave as of Monday. It is unknown how long the investigation would take.

"It's not because it's been proven he's done anything wrong," Gall explained.

He said it was felt to be in the best interests of the inquiry during an investigation of allegations made this week in two National Post stories.

The Post quoted anonymous sources who no longer worked for the inquiry, who said sexist and demeaning remarks were made in the inquiry office about sex workers.

One former staffer also questioned Boddie's role in going to visit Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans.

Boddie reportedly visited Evans last November before completing her report for the inquiry, which was supposed to be an independent review of the mistakes made by the Vancouver police and the RCMP in their investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton.

On Thursday at the inquiry, lawyer Cameron Ward, representing the families of 25 murdered and missing women, suggested to Oppal that "the Evans report was apparently ghostwritten by Boddie, a 16-year member of the Vancouver police force."

"There's not one scintilla of evidence the report was ghostwritten," Oppal said, sounding annoyed.

He chided Ward for relying on "extraneous outside sources."

A lawyer representing the Vancouver police at the inquiry pointed out that Boddie had worked for the Vancouver police 24 years ago.

The latest controversy was another distraction for the inquiry, which has been plagued by controversy from the start.

Even before the inquiry began hearings last Oct. 11, all the groups representing first nations and women withdrew from participating in the inquiry after the provincial government refused to provide legal funding.

Last month, the inquiry was forced to shut down for three weeks after the resignation of lawyer Robyn Gervais, who was appointed by Oppal to represents aboriginal interests. Gervais criticized the inquiry for focusing too much on police and not heard enough on aboriginal witnesses.

Oppal issued a statement Thursday expressing his disappointment with the latest allegations.

"I am disappointed that the people that felt strongly enough to go to the media with their concerns are not willing to identify themselves," he said.

"Responding to criticisms from anonymous sources is challenging because specifics are not provided and there is little to no context surrounding the limited information put forward in these serious allegations."

Oppal said earlier he was appalled by the allegations.

The inquiry, which is probing why police didn't catch Pickton sooner, has heard allegations of systemic police bias against Pickton's victims, who were mostly drug-addicted prostitutes who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Many of the women who went missing had first nations ancestry.

The inquiry continued Thursday hearing the testimony of Vancouver police Detective Constable Lori Shenher, who testified that when she investigated the missing women case between 1998 and 2000, decision-making was shrugged off by senior managers, who did not provide enough support, strategic planning and resources.

Shenher recalled senior managers rarely took an interest in the case.

But once Pickton was arrested in 2002 and it became Canada's biggest serial killer case, VPD officers were scrambling to get assigned to Pickton, she said.

Shenher found that sudden change of heart sickening, she wrote in an unpublished book about the Pickton case.

Her book described the officers jumping on the Pickton bandwagon as "people who wouldn't have pissed on these women if they were on fire."

Shenher investigated tips in 1998 and 1999 about Pickton and believed he was the prime suspect.

She passed along the tips to Coquitlam RCMP, which had had Pickton on their radar since March 1997, when Pickton was charged with a vicious knife attack of a Vancouver prostitute, who survived.

Pickton was charged with attempted murder and unlawful confinement of the woman, but the charges were stayed in 1998 because the prosecutor felt the victim, a drug addict, was not credible.

That victim, who cannot be identified, is expected to testify Tuesday when the inquiry resumes.

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

After Pickton exhausted all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial for another 20 murders.

nhall@vancouversun.com

Here is Oppal's full statement issued today:

I realize that there are many concerns about the anonymous allegations reported this week in the National Post. I find it challenging that such serious allegations outlined in two articles are all based on anonymous sources.

I have often said that we welcome criticism and feedback and that we strive to learn from what has been done. I believe we should be held to the highest standard. I am disappointed that the people that felt strongly enough to go to the media with their concerns are not willing to identify themselves. Responding to criticisms from anonymous sources is challenging because specifics are not provided and there is little to no context surrounding the limited information put forward in these serious allegations.

I want to be very clear here - especially under the cloud of new allegations put forward by the National Post - the work being done by this Commission is excellent.

I have every confidence in the information and knowledge that has been gained to date and I know that we will learn a great deal more over the coming weeks through the panel hearings, the upcoming workshops and public forums, and the research that is being done. To call the quality of the work of the Commission into question through anonymous sources is unreasonable and, I believe, unfair.

I have every confidence that this Commission will deliver a report that is valuable and that puts forward effective recommendations that will help to save lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens. That is what our objective is - and that is what we are all working towards during this particularly challenging and upsetting period.

While I believe strongly in the people that work for this Commission and in the work that is being done, I also have a responsibility to investigate allegations as serious as those put forward in the National Post. In that regard, we have retained Peter Gall, Q.C. as Independent Counsel to advise us on this matter, including how to proceed with the investigation on the allegations. Mr. Gall is a Senior Partner with the law firm Heenan Blaikie and is one of Canada's leading administrative law experts.

This Commission has had many challenges. These allegations have greatly affected every one of us at the Commission office. We are focused on the hearings, the upcoming workshops and public forums. We have not lost sight of the importance and value of the work being done here. Throughout this week, I have heard time and time again from Counsel and staff that they are committed to this important work, that they believe in what we are accomplishing here, and that they are confident that this Commission will produce an excellent report with strong recommendations. I am honoured to work with such committed professionals.

 

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

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

Updated: August 21, 2016