VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Brian Hutchinson: Pickton inquiry under fire to the end
Jun 5, 2012 – 2:52 AM ET
Simon Hayter for National Post files
'This inquiry didn’t finish its job.... This inquiry has raised more questions than it has answered,' lawyer Cameron Ward said Monday.
Cameron Ward was not long into his closing submission Monday morning when the fireworks started. Or resumed, for there have been many eruptions, explosions and bitter exchanges involving the lawyer and Missing Women Commission of Inquiry boss Wally Oppal since hearings began in October.
A public inquiry is supposed to be an uncompromising, thorough and transparent search for the truth, Mr. Ward said in his final remarks. It is supposed to be fair. “This one wasn’t,” he said. “This inquiry didn’t finish its job…. This inquiry has raised more questions than it has answered.”
Mr. Ward represents the families of 25 missing and murdered women, most of whom were poor and aboriginal and victims of Robert Pickton. Led by Mr. Oppal, a former judge and B.C. attorney general, the inquiry was supposed to examine how police failed to apprehend Pickton before he had murdered — by his own estimate — 49 women.
Lawyers representing individuals and groups with inquiry standing have each been allotted 60 minutes this week, in which to summarize their clients’ positions on evidence heard over eight months.
Mr. Ward led off, racing through examples of Vancouver Police Department and RCMP racism, prejudice and investigative “negligence.” He admonished B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch for deciding in 1998 to stay a charge of attempted murder laid against Pickton. The stay came four years before he was finally apprehended and charged with 26 murders. (Pickton was convicted on six of the counts in 2007; the remaining 20 charges were not pursued.)
Andy Clark/Reuters files
Ernie Cray stands at the gate of the former pig farm owned by serial killer Robert "Willie" Pickton in Port Coquitlam.
Between the 1998 stay and Pickton’s 2002 arrest, “twenty-four of my clients’ loved ones were killed,” said Mr. Ward.
‘You, as attorney general in 2008, said there was no point in putting Robert Pickton on trial for the [remaining] 20 counts of first degree murder’
He saved his most stinging salvos for the commission of inquiry itself. It had “perpetuated attitudes of indifference and disrespect” already shown by police to the families of the missing.
Mr. Ward alleged that “backroom dealings” were conducted among police, inquiry witnesses and inquiry staff. The commission of inquiry allowed police to “cover-up embarrassing past mistakes.” Disclosure of “many” police documents was late and incomplete.
He took direct aim at the commissioner, pointing a finger at Mr. Oppal. “You, as attorney general in 2008, said there was no point in putting Robert Pickton on trial for the [remaining] 20 counts of first degree murder.” One could not underestimate “the permanent pain that that decision caused,” Mr. Ward said.
Mr. Oppal had heard almost enough. “You have five more minutes,” he told Mr. Ward, who replied that five minutes weren’t nearly enough. The commissioner, he noted, had just been granted by the province an extra five months to write his final inquiry report. Give the families 15 more minutes to present their closing submission, said Mr. Ward. Show the families “some respect.”
“No one shows more respect for the families than I do,” snapped Mr. Oppal. Forgetting, perhaps, the offence he caused two months ago, when he appeared in a sadistic slasher movie filmed in B.C. Mr. Oppal played the victim of a serial killer, a role he said he had enjoyed very much.
In the public gallery, angry whispers buzzed. “This is bullshit,” declared an aboriginal woman. She walked out.
Mr. Ward continued, cramming in as much as he could with the time he had left. Other recent public inquiries in Vancouver ended with recommendations that police not investigate police, he noted. But this inquiry has relied heavily on official police accounts of how their Pickton investigations derailed. “That was completely wrong, in my respectful submission,” said Mr. Ward. “The police were allowed and were enabled to control the inquiry agenda.”
Mr. Oppal snapped again. “All relevant evidence has been called,” he said. Forgetting, perhaps, about those witnesses — police officers, Pickton’s brother David, their associates — whom he was asked to call but whom he refused, for reasons he has kept to himself.
Outside the inquiry room, after Mr. Ward was ordered to stop,
some family members talked about the need for “an inquiry into
the inquiry.” Others wept.
Updated: August 21, 2016