VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Brian Hutchinson: Questions fester about Pickton inquiry
Brian Hutchinson Feb 7, 2012
Reporters covering the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry in Vancouver were exposed to an Al Pacino-like moment Monday morning.
Cameron Ward, lawyer for families of 23 missing and murdered women, had a mini-meltdown, accusing inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal of enabling a police cover-up with respect to their bungled investigations of dead sex trade workers, many of them killed by Robert “Willie” Pickton.
Mr. Ward wasn’t dragged from the inquiry room screaming “You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” a la Pacino in his 1992 classic, …And Justice for All.
But he did shout a lot, and he did make bold accusations that the inquiry process has gone bad, and he certainly infuriated Mr. Oppal. The two have clashed bitterly since the inquiry hearings began in October. After his noisy outbursts Monday, Mr. Ward left the inquiry room and didn’t return for the rest of the morning session.
Outside, he repeated once again his allegation that a police cover-up is being perpetrated. “The commission is reluctant to press the police interests on all sorts of things that should be compelled from them,” he said. “The provincial government has not provided it with the latitude required to [get the facts]. We’ll only scratch the surface of the facts here. I’m trying my best to ensure that all the evidence comes out.”
Mr. Ward makes some solid points. Police disclosure of relevant documents has been uneven; certain records, notes and other contemporaneous documents compiled during police investigations of missing women and of Pickton himself have not been produced. Some have been shredded. Some have simply vanished, the inquiry has heard. Is Mr. Ward supposed to just shrug that off? Should Mr. Oppal? Should the rest of us?
Civilians who interacted with police during their investigations from 1997 to 2002 haven’t been called to testify, even though many are on a confidential inquiry witness list. Time is running out on the inquiry and arrangements haven’t been made to have the civilian witnesses testify. Instead, Mr. Oppal continues to hear from police officers, some of whom were involved in the botched investigations, some of whom wrote internal investigation reports in advance of anticipated lawsuits and in the expectation that an inquiry would be called.
Of course, the inquiry needs to hear from those Vancouver Police Department and RCMP officers. Mr. Oppal’s task is to determine why police couldn’t stop Pickton before his eventual arrest in 2002, even though he was fixed in their sights for years. He is also to examine why B.C.’s criminal justice branch stayed charges of attempted murder and unlawful confinement against the pig farmer in 1997, when he was busy murdering sex trade workers. With those charges stayed, Pickton was free to kill more women, and he did.
But surely the inquiry also needs to hear from the tipsters, sources and community members on whom police relied for information. They interacted with investigators; they have independent knowledge of how police treated the missing women files; they can help fill information gaps and perhaps even solve myriad inconsistencies in testimonies from police.
When they aren’t contradicting themselves, police witnesses are parroting one another. The inquiry keeps hearing the same stories about events, over and over. And much of the media coverage reflects that. Here are three headlines from Monday’s hearings:
• Pickton interview in 2000 mishandled, inquiry told (Vancouver Sun)
• Pickton surveillance halted after tip-off (Globe and Mail)
• Charges could have saved many lives; Ex-Mountie (The Province)
None of this was news. The inquiry has already heard — many times over — about the fumbled 2000 interview that police conducted with Pickton, about the bungled surveillance attempts, about the 1997 attempted murder charges that the Crown had stayed. And it still hasn’t heard from the principals involved in those events, such as the women whom Pickton stabbed nearly to death in 1997.
The real story at the inquiry on Monday was Mr. Ward’s allegations and emotional outbursts, and Mr. Oppal’s angry response. What was all that about?
In the absence of new information, the big story at the Pickton inquiry right now is the process itself, and the people involved.
Updated: August 21, 2016