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In the eye of the storm

Media officer at pig-farm probe must juggle the glare of publicity, 20-hour days and terrible tragedy -- and be a model of discretion

Kathy Tait
The Province

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Catherine Galliford

Catherine Galliford's pager and cellphone are her constant companions -- even in the middle of the night.

Most of the callers are pesky reporters.

But the bright, attractive 35-year-old media liaison officer for the Missing Women Task Force says she doesn't mind at all -- she used to be a reporter herself.

"I feel very comfortable with media . . . I understand what they're looking for."

Const. Galliford once worked as a journalist for a Cranbrook radio station and later at a television station in Prince George.

Working the crime beat in Prince George, she became close friends with an RCMP staff-sergeant who turned her on to police work.

Today, along with Det. Scott Driemel of the Vancouver police, Galliford is the police face for one of Canada's grimmest murder investigations at the most ugly of crime scenes -- a pig farm in Port Coquitlam.

Galliford sees herself as a vital link in the joint Vancouver police-RCMP task force investigation into the disappearance of more than 50 sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside since 1983.

Robert Pickton, one of the owners of the pig farm, is charged with first-degree murder of two of the women. An intensive forensic search by up to 80 officers continues at the farm.

"My job takes the heat off them, so they can do their jobs," says Galliford.

"They see me on TV with hordes of reporters and photographers surrounding me -- I'm just buried -- and they say they wouldn't want to be in my shoes."

Galliford, who left journalism at 23 to train with the RCMP, has to be available seven days a week.

"I work a lot of 20-hour days. I sleep for four hours and work another 20 hours."

These days her pager usually starts up at 5 a.m. with calls from Eastern Canada. It continues throughout the day from local media and then between 6 p.m. and midnight mainly from Dateline NBC, America's Most Wanted, the BBC in London and CNN.

The day the pig-farm story broke, she was paged in the middle of the night to attend a 6 a.m. task force operational briefing.

Staff-Sgt. Doug Henderson says he saw the way Galliford, who is also media liaison for the Air India investigation, was able to work with the families of those 329 victims.

"She has people skills plus," says Henderson. "She's very empathetic and well received. So we're happy to get her to do this [pig farm] project, which has the potential to be a large tragedy."

Galliford and members of the task force will meet with families of the missing women today.

Staff-Sgt. Paul Derbyshire says Galliford's media work is not easy and it's in addition to her investigative duties, but it keeps media informed "in a more focused and professional way."

In quieter times, Galliford works out of E Division Major Crime Section on other investigations on a more regular Monday-to-Friday, 8 a.m.-to-4 p.m. shift.

Galliford says her years as a journalist make her job easier and her training as a police officer helps her to get by with very little sleep.

The tension in her job comes from knowing what she can't tell media.

"I can't give them anything that will violate someone's rights, jeopardize an ongoing investigation or a case before the courts. We can't name someone as a suspect unless they're charged. We can't release information about evidence we've obtained, exhibits that may have been seized or details about statements we have received -- any information that will be used as direct evidence."

Galliford won't talk about her family. She is not married now and, asked about any romances or kids, she giggles and says, "You can say I'm tight-lipped about that."

She says her mother is probably right when she says Galliford has become much more serious since she got into police work.

"It's sad to say: Nothing surprises me any more. I've seen the dregs of humanity. It makes me appreciate my family and friends more and appreciate the life I have. So many of the bad guys never really had a chance at a good life."

Despite the nature of her job, Galliford says she knows how to unwind. Fun for her is spending time with family and friends, being outdoors, swimming, camping, going on road trips and tobogganing.

Galliford once came close to a small publicity disaster. It was her biggest news conference, being televised live around the world. Her chair was on rollers and when she sat down, it rolled back and almost tipped her up.

Friends in the media note that she now gives all her news conferences standing up.

Email Kathy Tait at: ktait@pacpress.southam.ca 

 Copyright 2002 The Province

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Updated: August 21, 2016