VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
A. Cameron Ward & Company acting for the families of 18 women who went missing on the DTES
October 11, 2011 in Missing Women Commission of Inquiry
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry started today. Here is the full text of our opening statement:
Mr. Chantler and I act for the families of the following 18 women who went missing on Vancouver’s downtown east side (“DTES”) and were later linked to convicted murderer Robert William Pickton:
Dianne Rock, Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey, Cynthia Dawn Feliks, Cara Ellis, Mona Wilson, Helen May Hallmark, Dawn Crey, Angela Hazel Williams, Jacqueline Murdock, Brenda Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Elsie Sebastian, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Borhaven, Tiffany Drew, Angela Jardine and Stephanie Lane
Their family members, many of whom have attended here today, live throughout British Columbia, in places such as Prince George, Sparwood, Rosedale, Coldstream, Campbell River, Victoria, Fanny Bay, Surrey and Chilliwack. Some live across the country, in Edmonton, Calgary, and North York, Ontario, or across the border in Washington state.
These families and others demanded a public inquiry into why it took the law enforcement authorities so long to arrest Pickton and put a stop to his horrific crimes. Now that the public inquiry has finally arrived, we intend to do everything we possibly can to help the Commission fulfill its mandate.
As Mr. Vertlieb pointed out in the course of his thorough opening remarks, that mandate includes conducting a thorough factual review of two related subject areas:
1) The conduct of the missing women investigations, defined as the police investigations conducted between January 23, 1997 and February 5, 2002 respecting women reported missing from the DTES.
2) The decision of the Attorney General’s Criminal Justice Branch to stay charges against Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault that had been laid against him in respect of events that occurred on March 23, 1997.
We perceive that this inquiry should primarily serve the families and respect the memory of their lost loved ones. Because the missing women were ignored by society for far too long, I am going to take the liberty of spending a few minutes to introduce now each of them to you. Every person on this list was once somebody’s child, somebody’s little girl:
THE MISSING WOMEN
1. Dianne Rock was adopted into a warm and loving family at the age of four, in Welland, Ontario. By the age of 28, she was the mother of five children. She was married and worked as a care aide to mentally handicapped adults before her life took a turn for the worse in 2001. Dianne was last seen in the DTES on October 19, 2001 and was reported missing one month later.
2. Georgina Papin was born into a well-known family on the Enoch Cree First Nation reserve, southwest of Edmonton. By the age of 35 she had seven children. Georgina disappeared from Vancouver’s downtown east side in March, 1999, leaving behind a large extended family.
3. Marnie Frey had a “typical” childhood in Campbell River, raised by her loving father and adoptive mother. Marnie moved to Vancouver in 1997 but maintained regular and frequent contact with her family. She went missing in August of that year, only days after calling her parents on her 24th birthday. Her disappearance was reported to police immediately.
4. Cynthia (or Cindy) Feliks was raised primarily by her adoptive mother Marilyn, and attended Lord Byng High School on Vancouver’s west side. She had one daughter, now in her twenties, and many friends when she suddenly disappeared from the DTES in November of 1997. The police told Cindy’s family she “must be around” and would “likely just show up”.
5. Cara Ellis was born and raised in Calgary. She moved to Vancouver in her early 20s, and, despite no end to the troubles she encountered here, maintained close contact with her family back home. Cara vanished in early 1997, and the subsequent report of her disappearance was shrugged off by the VPD.
6. Mona Wilson was raised in foster care in Surrey, but was originally from the O-Chiese First Nation near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. She is survived by a large family including several siblings. Mona disappeared from the DTES on November 23, 2001 at age 26 and was reported missing shortly after.
7. Helen May Hallmark grew up in Burnaby. She entered foster care in her early teens but remained close with her natural family. She disappeared shortly after her 31st birthday in October, 1997. Helen’s siblings’ attempts to report her disappearance to the VPD were met with resistance and apathy.
8. Dawn Crey was born into the Sto:lo First Nation, near Chilliwack, and is survived by a large family including six siblings, many nieces and nephews, and her own son. She was raised in foster care, but always maintained ties with her family. Dawn disappeared shortly before her 43rd birthday, in November, 2000 and was reported missing one month later.
9. Angela Williams was raised by her father in Campbell River. She went missing from the DTES in December, 2001, and was found murdered in Surrey shortly thereafter. She had three children. Although her death has not been attributed to Pickton, Angela is on this list because the circumstances of her disappearance shed further light on the quality of the missing person investigations.
10. Jackie Murdock was the youngest daughter of large family from the Carrier First Nation in Fort St. James. She was 26 years old when she was last seen at the corner of Main and Hastings on August 14, 1997, at the age of 26. Jackie is survived a large family including her parents, siblings and four children.
11. Brenda Wolfe was born and raised near Lethbridge. She eventually moved to the DTES where she made many friends and worked at the infamous Balmoral Hotel. Brenda had two children when she disappeared in February, 1999, at the age of 31.
12. Andrea Joesbury was born in Victoria, and was raised by her mother until the age of 16, when she moved to Vancouver. She was last seen in June, 2001 at the age of 23. Andrea left behind her grandparents, parents and siblings, and a young daughter.
13. Elsie Sebastian was born into the Pacheedaht First Nation near Port Renfrew and was a survivor of the Alberni Indian Residential School. She disappeared from the DTES in 1992. Elsie left behind two daughters, two sons, and a large extended family.
14. Heather Bottomley was born and raised in New Westminster, where she enjoyed a happy and normal childhood. In her teenage years a boyfriend led her to life on the DTES. She had two children, and was last seen April 17, 2001, at the age of 24. Heather was reported missing in November of that year.
15. Andrea Borhaven was born in Langley, and was raised by her mother and stepfather in Armstrong. Her mother last heard from her in January, 1997, and reported her disappearance to the VPD later. Andrea was 26 years old.
16. Tiffany Drew was raised in Port Alberni and Nanaimo by her parents. After she moved to Vancouver in 1998, she remained close with her aunt, who now has custody of Tiffany’s three children. Tiffany vanished from the DTES in 1999. Her family met resistance when trying to report her missing to the Vancouver Police.
17. Angela Jardine was born in Sudbury, Ontario, and moved to Sparwood with her parents at the age of 12. At the age of 19 she moved to Vancouver. She was last seen by her social worker in December, 1998 – and when she failed to come home to Sparwood for Christmas, her family contacted the VPD. Angela was 28 years old.
18. Stephanie Lane grew up in East Vancouver with her parents and younger brother. While in high school, she was a straight-A student. She disappeared from the downtown east side in January, 1997, and was reported missing to the VPD within weeks. Stephanie was 20 years old, and had recently given birth to her only son.
These missing women were all little girls once, and they could have been anyone’s daughters. Each of them loved their families, and were loved by their families right back. While many young women had fallen into the grip of drug addictions and were forced to sell their bodies to supplement meagre welfare payments, they had homes and friends and kept in frequent touch with their parents, siblings and other relatives.
Many occasionally returned to their families for special occasions like Christmas, birthdays and weddings or simply for a home-cooked meal and temporary respite from the life they lived in the DTES. However, their lives were on the DTES. It was their home and the only place where they felt they could survive.
Other than sometimes catching up with their relatives, these women rarely left their circle of friends, fellow addicts and dealers – and were often caught in a vicious cycle of highs and lows. We expect that many of the friends and family members of the missing women will testify that they got the brush-off when they reported them missing to the VPD. They were told that they must have gone on holiday, gone travelling or that there was another reasonable explanation for their absence. That was patently nonsense – addicted women who rely on welfare cheques to survive simply can’t leave their home turf, even if they wanted to. We expect that their families will describe the experience of fearing that something terrible may have happened to their loved one, the experience of taking their concern to the police and being told by a perfect stranger that their child or close relative was probably just off on holidays, or had gone travelling without letting them know, or will turn up soon. They will try to convey how presumptuous, insulting, condescending and offensive those comments were.
We expect that the evidence will reveal that the police, to the extent they even noticed, were full of disdain and contempt for the missing women and their families. These weren’t “nice girls” from the west side of Vancouver, where people drive expensive cars and where nondescript houses change hands for millions of dollars. They were poverty- stricken, drug- addicted, poorly –educated, predominantly native sex trade workers from the DTES, where people don’t own cars but offer to wipe the windows of those who pass through. These are people who are forced by circumstance to sleep in alleys or bedbug infested flophouses and scrounge for pocket change just to survive from one day to the next. The police and most of the rest of society, if the truth be told, couldn’t have cared less what happened to these women.
THE FAMILIES’ VIEWS
For a period of at least five long years leading up to February 5, 2002, the date the police accidentally stumbled upon evidence at the Pickton farm, dozens of women vanished from right under the noses of the VPD and were murdered right under the noses of the Coquitlam RCMP, even though both police forces had plenty of information pointing to Pickton as a prime suspect. The families want to know why Pickton wasn’t stopped sooner. They want to know if he had accomplices who may still be walking the streets and preying on other victims.
The families believe that the law enforcement authorities responsible for protecting the public and keeping our communities safe appear to have failed miserably in their duties. They believe that these institutions, although they had millions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds at their disposal, turned a blind eye to the issue of the missing women, either because of absolute indifference, breathtaking incompetence or possibly for more sinister reasons. Whatever factors may have led to the five year delay in charging Pickton, and we intend to find out exactly what they were, the families of the missing women are absolutely outraged by what happened in this case. They believe that the authorities are culpable in the deaths of over a dozen women because their negligence enabled Pickton to literally get away with murder for more than five years. Make no mistake about it, our clients believe that the VPD, the RCMP and the CJB and perhaps others have the blood of their loved ones on their hands.
The facts already in the public domain are truly shocking and have led our clients to the inescapable conclusion that both the VPD and RCMP completely botched the handling of the missing women investigations. We anticipate that the additional evidence to be adduced at these hearings will show that the conduct of both police forces was inexcusable and egregious.
We expect that the evidence will show that the police investigations suffered from the fundamental technical and operational failures highlighted by Mr. Vertlieb in his opening remarks. In summary, these included:
- The police failed to acknowledge the possibility of a serial killer preying on the DTES, despite the overwhelming evidence, and failed to warn the public of this possibility;
- they failed to share information between departments, or even within their own review teams;
- they failed to follow the basic principles of major case management, and lacked adequate training in major case management;
- they failed to conduct effective or sufficient surveillance on their primary suspects;
- they failed to follow basic leads, such as interviewing family members and friends of the women reported missing;
- they failed to conduct a proper interview of Pickton in 2000, when he voluntarily attended the Coquitlam RCMP detachment, and they failed to follow up that poor interview with a consensual search of his farm;
- they failed to adequately prioritize resources despite the scale of the unfolding tragedy;
But beyond these technical purely technical failings, we expect that the evidence will show that the police had a bad attitude- they showed an enormous lack of understanding of, or prejudice towards, the population with whom they were dealing:
- they failed to understand the cycle of dependence of drug-addicted sex workers, and naively assumed they were transient;
- they failed to deal effectively and appropriately with tipsters and witnesses who happened to be drug users; and
- they failed to give sufficient or any value to the evidence brought by friends, family members and social service providers that women had disappeared;
In short – it seems the police often didn’t believe the families, the friends and the other concerned citizens who came forward to report the sudden disappearance of women from the DTES. Why were they apparently so callous and indifferent? Was it because the women had the nine characteristics that Mr. Vertlieb listed? Did the police conclude, because these women were poverty-stricken, poorly educated residents of the DTES, many of First Nations heritage, many addicted to drugs, many involved in the sex trade, many with criminal records, that they simply didn’t matter and their disappearances were of no consequence?
The families feel that the RCMP should be singled out for special scrutiny by this Commission, given the following facts which we expect will clearly emerge in the course of the hearings:
The RCMP was responsible for policing the relatively small suburb of Port Coquitlam, where the remains and DNA of the missing women were finally found at a farm owned by the three Pickton siblings, Robert William (Willy”) Pickton, David Francis Pickton and Linda Louise Wright, just a short drive east on the Lougheed Highway from the Coquitlam detachment.. A Hell’s Angels clubhouse was right across the street from the Pickton farm and just around the corner from these two properties was Piggy’s Palace, an infamous hangout operated by Willy Pickton’s brother Dave on land also owned by the three Pickton siblings.
It has been reported that Piggy’s Palace was notorious as a “wild party place with drugs and prostitutes” and that it was frequented by the Hell’s Angels, off-duty police officers and city officials. The Coquitlam RCMP must have been intimately familiar with Piggy’s Palace and the Pickton brothers’ activities, especially since we believe that the evidence will reveal that a long time friend of the Pickton family worked in a civilian capacity within the detachment.
Earl Moulton, the officer in charge of the Coquitlam RCMP detachment at the relevant time, must have known of the unsavoury activities occurring at Piggy’s Palace. We expect that he will testify and describe Piggy’s Palace as an illegal after hours “booze can” and say that “the nature of their clients and such was that we didn’t want that going on and we took some steps to interfere”.
These steps apparently included an action commenced by the City of Port Coquitlam in the B.C. Supreme Court on October 24, 1996, five months before Pickton allegedly attempted to murder the sex trade worker referred to as “Anderson”. The Picktons defended that court action and the litigation ensued until December 31, 1998, when the City obtained an interlocutory injunction from Mr. Justice Scarth that restrained the Picktons from using the premises at 2552 Burns Road, Piggy’s Palace, “for the purposes of holding a dance or party or for the assembly of persons for entertainment, recreational, charitable or cultural purposes.”
This two year period during which the City was trying to shut Piggy’s Palace down in the courts was a critical time because it was then that the RCMP received information from several sources that Pickton was involved in harming or killing sex trade workers.
If everyone knew of the wild activities going on at the Picktons’ property involving Hell’s Angels, sex trade workers and drugs, if off-duty police officers had been frequenting the place, and if a long time friend of the Pickton family worked in a civilian capacity for the Coquitlam RCMP, then how could the police fail to put two and two together when the information about the Pickton’s connection with missing DTES women began coming in?
Consider this: In August of 2010, Bill Hiscox, the tipster that Mr. Vertlieb referred to, received some of the $100,000 reward that had been offered by the Vancouver Police Board and Province in 1999 “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the unlawful confinement, kidnapping or murder of” 31 listed missing women.
Mr. Hiscox had come forward in August of 1998 with information that Willie Pickton, a Port Coquitlam pig farmer, was a “sicko” who had killed Sarah deVries, had women’s purses and identification in his trailer, had said that he could “easily dispose of bodies by putting them through a grinder” and that “he might be responsible for all the missing girls.” Mr. Hiscox had made the effort, out of a sense of public duty, to telephone Crimestoppers, Ms. deVries’ friend Wayne Leng and the VPD with this information. The VPD considered it credible and passed it on to the Coquitlam RCMP, right away, in August of 1998.
When the Coquitlam RCMP got that information, the first thing they did, obviously, was to check their records on Pickton. That led them to their file involving the attempted murder of a DTES sex trade worker the year before. The RCMP had the evidence gathered in March of 1997 in their possession, including still photographs and video of the inside of Pickton’s trailer as well as clothing and other items that they had seized from him and kept in an exhibit locker. (When the RCMP finally got around to checking Pickton’s clothing for evidence, in 2004, seven years after they had seized it, they found DNA from two of the missing women, Andrea Borhaven and Cara Ellis).
Although more informants independently came forward with information similar to what Hiscox had reported, the RCMP failed to take any number of steps that could have stopped Pickton in his tracks. Unfortunately, tragically, unbelievably, Pickton was able to continue taking women from the DTES to Port Coquitlam farm where he butchered them on his farm, unhindered by the police, from August of 1998 until February of 2002, a period of over three and a half years. How could this possibly happen?
Both the VPD and the RCMP have conducted internal reviews of their handling of the case. Deputy Chief LePard wrote that the VPD’s investigation lacked “urgency and priority” and suggested that inadequate resources and lack of a regional police force structure contributed to the mistakes that were made. He also pointed fingers at the RCMP, stating, “those in positions of authority in the Coquitlam RCMP and the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit must bear primary responsibility for the failure to effectively manage the investigation”. To the VPD’s credit, LePard at least had the decency to tender an apology of sorts to the families at a press conference he conducted on August 20, 2010.
For their part, the RCMP, in an astonishing display of hubris, have bristled and expressed indignation at any suggestion they may have made any serious mistakes along the way. We expect that RCMP Superintendent Nash will testify that he characterized portions of LePard’s review as “objectionable”, “inflammatory”, “disturbing”, “biased”, “unfair”, “insulting”, “misleading”, “distasteful”, “offensive”, “completely without merit” and “bizarre”. Don Adam, a retired RCMP investigator who started working on the case in January of 2001 and was the first witness to testify at Pickton’s trial, even went so far as to have a lengthy and largely self-congratulatory opinion piece published in the Vancouver Sun in November of 2010, after this inquiry had been announced. Adam’s commentary cannot be allowed to remain in the public record unchallenged and we look forward to having the opportunity to question him about the steps he and his team took or didn’t take in 2001.
While infighting, personality clashes and lack of communication may have contributed to the police investigations’ problems, we will be taking issue in the strongest possible terms with any suggestion that a lack of resources was a factor. Wayne Leng, a concerned citizen with no investigative training and no funding, using his spare time and his own money, arguably did more in three months to solve the case than the VPD and RCMP did with their combined money and manpower in over five years. On this issue of allegedly inadequate VPD resources, we observed at least 11 uniformed VPD members downstairs at the entrance to this building this morning, presumably dispatched to ensure the peaceful protest outside didn’t get out of hand. That is ironic, because that is at least eight more officers than the number of members the VPD assigned to the missing women cases in the first few phases of their investigation. We expect the evidence to reveal that Canada’s national police force and the municipal police department of this country’s third largest city both had ample funds and human resources at their disposal to enable them to do a competent job on the missing women investigations. The resource issue, if there was any, appears to us to have been one of misallocation, not inadequacy.
OBJECTIVES / LACK OF LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
The families of the missing women want this inquiry to produce things that have eluded them for far too long: the truth, some justice and accountability.
Our task of trying to help the Commission find the truth will be a challenge. This forum is not anything like a level playing field. In fact, it will be more like a mountain to climb, a mountain more daunting than Everest. The law enforcement authorities have had the advantage of virtually unlimited resources at their disposal, in terms of money, lawyers and time. The RCMP and VPD, reasonably concluding they would need to defend allegations of negligence, first consulted their civil litigation lawyers about these matters almost a decade years ago. We’ve been looking at documents and preparing in earnest for just a few months.
Everything we have seen to date suggests that the VPD and RCMP are determined to keep a tight lid sealed on much of the evidence. Documents have been vetted and heavily redacted and we had to sign strict undertakings before we could look at the edited documents. It’s obvious to us that many classes of important records still haven’t been revealed, although the other lawyers involved in these hearings have undoubtedly spent millions of tax dollars preparing for this day.
We intend to fight tooth and nail to ensure that every relevant record, every scrap of paper, every piece of audio, video or photographic evidence, is available for our scrutiny and use at the hearings. In short, we plan to use all the means at our disposal to ensure that the lid is pried off this scandalous case and that all the relevant facts, no matter how shocking or how damning they may be, are exposed to the spotlight of public scrutiny.
We have other grave concerns about the process so far, here on day one of the hearings. We are very troubled that the provincial government decided not to fund other groups with standing, leaving us to shoulder a heavier burden than anticipated. We don’t understand why we were not consulted by the Commission before it reached agreements with the VPD, RCMP and CJB about how the relevant documents would be produced and vetted. We are concerned with the engagement of the Peel Regional police to play some role in this inquiry and wonder why they apparently were given access to the files six months before we were. We continually feel left out of the loop in many respects, especially when we learn about significant Commission business from the media, as we did again last Friday when we heard radio reports about how long this hearing process is expected to last.
On this point, the terms of reference state that the Commission must report its findings to the provincial government by December 31 of this year, 2011. In our view, it will be absolutely impossible to complete an adequate inquiry by then. The government simply must extend the deadline for at least another year if this is to be a bona fide exercise. We insist, for the families’ sakes, that the government make the decision now to extend the time frame of this inquiry so we all have some scheduling certainty as we move forward.
We trust that this evidentiary hearing process will be thorough, open and transparent, that there will be no important agreements made with other participants without our input and that, as important participants in these hearings, the families will be kept fully informed through us of any material issues pertaining to this process at the same time as the other participants are apprised of them.
We submit that the effectiveness of this Commission’s work will depend on the nature, quality and quantity of the evidence it obtains. The evidence will include the records that the Commission obtains through the use of its statutory powers and then discloses to the participants, the documents that become exhibits at the hearings and the sworn testimony of the witnesses who take the stand.
While tens of thousands of pages of heavily redacted documents have been disclosed to us, we feel that many, many more relevant records still need to be obtained and produced. To this end, we have made a formal application for the disclosure of some of the additional records we believe are relevant to these hearings and we expect to continue with a concentrated effort to have them brought forward. Some very essential things seem to be missing from the disclosure to date. For example, we haven’t got any audio or video files yet, we haven’t seen the VPD’s missing person files for Cara Ellis, we don’t yet have the files related to the investigation and closure of Piggy’s Palace, we seem to be missing copies of many police and Crown e-mails, the disclosure of police notebooks seems incomplete, and so on…..We hope to deal with these issue in a timely way and encourage the continued cooperation of the participants and others in this endeavour.
As far as witnesses are concerned, aside from the first handful of witnesses, we do not yet know with any real certainty who Mr. Vertlieb intends to call to the stand. We feel that the witnesses who should testify at this Commission’s hearings, under compulsion if necessary, should include people from the following areas:
Community members, activists, friends and family who tried to bring the missing women to the attention of the VPD.
City officials, and members of the Vancouver Police Board, including former Mayor Owen, who initially dismissed the issue of the missing women and hesitated to offer a reward for information.
VPD employees, including the various Chief Constables and upper management personnel, media relations spokespeople, regular members and civilian employees who had any involvement with the missing women investigations.
Social workers from the DTES who distributed welfare cheques and must have noticed some of the women’s failure to collect those cheques.
Employees from West Coast Reduction Ltd. who had the responsibility of checking and recording the delivery of farm offal to their Vancouver rendering plant. Their evidence is relevant because that’s where Pickton said he took some of the women’s remains.
Senior commanders from RCMP “E” Division headquarters, including the head of “E” Division at all material times and those members of the JFO, like Don Adam and Ted vanOverBeek, who started working on the files in early 2001.
Pickton’s siblings who co-owned the farm and Piggy’s Palace, their close associates and witnesses who reported Pickton’s activities to the police.
All the members of the Coquitlam RCMP, including civilian employees, who had any dealings of any kind with the Pickton family or Piggy’s Palace prior to February 5, 2002.
All other RCMP members who had any involvement with the missing women investigations.
The victim of the March 23, 1997 attempted murder (“Anderson”), any witnesses to the crime or its aftermath, the police who investigated that incident and all lawyers involved in the decision to stay the charges, including the Crown and defence counsel on the case.
Former Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, who participated in meetings with police leaders and was involved in the eventual decision to offer a reward, as well as any other provincial government officials who may have had any involvement in aspects of the missing women investigations.
This Inquiry will have to cover a lot of ground if it is to be effective. We plan to post regular inquiry reports on our website, cameronward.com. We appeal to anyone who may be following these hearings and who may have helpful information-contact us through the website, anonymously if they wish, and we will follow their tips up. We will do everything we possibly can to help this Commission uncover the truth.
There is a lot at stake in this process.
The families of the missing women have decided to participate and put some faith in the process, even though they are very disappointed that the other groups who could have helped out have withdrawn. They considered withdrawing as well, but considered they are in a unique and different position; if they are to find out exactly what happened in the past and have their lingering questions answered, this is the only viable forum that can give them that opportunity.
Besides looking backwards to answer the important questions that the families have, questions like; Why didn’t the police stop Pickton sooner? Did Pickton really act alone?; this Commission will be looking forward and considering recommendations that may be designed to improve the safety of the most vulnerable members of our communities, First Nations and others, the drug addicted and sex trade workers among us. The Commission may consider making recommendations designed to improve policing in the Province, perhaps concerning the issue of the appropriateness of regional policing and perhaps concerning the topical issue of whether it is appropriate for the RCMP continue fulfilling the role of the provincial police force in British Columbia.
On behalf of the families of the eighteen missing and murdered women we referred to earlier, we look forward to doing everything we possibly can to assist this Commission with these important tasks.
posted by Cameron Ward
Updated: August 21, 2016