VANCOUVER — A well known victims' rights lawyer is stepping in to help families connected to serial killer Robert Pickton in their attempt to wade through the upcoming Missing Women Inquiry.
Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward says he will be asking for standing at the newly-launched inquiry on behalf of family members of at least six murdered women.
Ward said in an interview the families have many questions, and the only way to properly get answers is to have someone familiar with the inquiry process asking those questions.
"These types of commission of inquiry ... tend to be quite complicated and there tend to be lots of lawyers in the room representing various interests," Ward said. "For family members to try to participate meaningfully in such process without a lawyer's assistance would be pretty futile."
Ward will represent the families of Georgian Papin, Marnie Frey and Mona Wilson, who Pickton has been convicted of killing. He'll also speak for the families of Cara Ellis, Cynthia Feliks and Diane Rock, whose names were among 20 murders charges stayed against the serial killer.
Ward will need to attain standing at the inquiry and will be looking for the B.C. government to cover his legal fees for the six families and other families who may want to retain him.
"The families of the missing women, victims that I represent are not able to afford the legal fees that would be involved in something like this."
Inquiry commission lawyer Art Vertlieb said Commissioner Wally Oppal is still developing rules on standing and he expects people to be able to apply as soon as the commission's website is in operation.
Oppal, a former B.C. Appeal Court judge, will be looking at the RCMP and Vancouver police investigations into missing women over a five-year span between 1997 and February 2002, when Pickton was arrested.
He will also review the 1998 decision by the B.C. government's Criminal Justice Branch to stay charges against Pickton for an attack on a sex-trade worker.
The DNA of 11 women who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside after those charges were dropped was found on Pickton's farm.
Ward said the five-year investigative window set by the B.C. government is the subject of some concern and he would like to see that time frame broadened.
"Mr Pickton was operating for a long time and I know the families of many of the women he was accused of, or convicted of killing, brought their concerns to the attention of authorities over a long period of time and those concerns were ignored," said Ward.
Vertlieb said while Oppal will be interpreting the terms of reference for the inquiry, he can't change the timeline.
"Only the government can amend the terms of reference. But he's going to interpret and decide what he needs to do to give them effect."
Pickton was convicted of killing six women in December 2007, and another 20 murder charges against him were stayed when he lost the appeal of those convictions in the Supreme Court of Canada.
The massive police operation on Pickton's Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm unearthed the DNA of 33 women, along with a hoard of evidence from his victims. The trial heard he was luring women for years from the impoverished Downtown Eastside with a promise of cash and drugs and then murdered them on his farm.
Vancouver Police already admitted they made errors during their investigation and even released a lengthy report highlighting the mistakes they made in allowing a serial killer to slip between their fingers.
The report also faulted the RCMP investigation and said both departments failed to share information, there was a lack of leadership, resources were scarce and there was a bias against sex workers among Vancouver Police staff.