Looking back, it was the late-night telephone calls that
troubled me the most.
The horrors of Robert Pickton's farm were still years away,
as was the media frenzy surrounding the trial of Canada's most
prolific serial killer. Back in 1997, when I began covering the
disappearance of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for
the Vancouver Sun, nobody was paying much attention to the women
or their families.
My stories rarely made front page, and the relatives of the
missing were all but ignored.
And so, without anyone else to turn to, they would call me at
home in the evening just to say how much they missed their
sisters or friends, and to ask me why the police were taking so
long. When, they wanted to know, would they get some answers?
I had no idea what to say to them then, and I still don't. I
spent six years covering the missing women case, much of that
time when nobody else seemed interested in writing about it. Kim
Bolan, Lori Culbert and I delved into problems with the initial
Vancouver police investigation in 2001, and Kim and I were the
first reporters on the scene when police searched Pickton's farm
But I still don't understand how police failed to catch
That's why I find it so alarming to see the same politicians
and media commentators, who paid so little attention to these
women years ago, turning their backs on them once again by
dismissing calls for a public inquiry. Even my own paper joined
the fray Sunday.
Too costly, the arguments go. What would it accomplish to
relive the horror? And besides, don't we already know what went
Well, no, we don't. The trial of Pickton barely skimmed the
surface of the policing errors, and the internal police reviews
are still under wraps. How people can argue against a review
before knowing what went wrong is beyond me. Have none of them
paused to wonder why police themselves are calling for an
inquiry? Is it possible they know that the mistakes were so
egregious that nothing short of a full accounting will suffice?
This is not about reliving the horror. It's about finding out
why police had Pickton dead in their sights more than two years
before his arrest, and let him slip away.
Remember, by August 1999, police not only knew about
Pickton's attempt to kill a prostitute at his farm in 1997, they
had information on two women who, independently of one another,
claimed to have seen incriminating evidence at Pickton's farm.
One had seen bags of bloody clothing and women's identification,
the other a woman's body hanging in his barn.
Port Coquitlam RCMP took the lead on Pickton because he lived
in their jurisdiction. And they, along with the Vancouver
police, considered him such a prime suspect that they put him
under surveillance. There was talk of getting wiretap or staging
an undercover operation.
Then, nothing. The woman who had told others about a body
denied this in police interviews. Years later she would become a
star witness at Pickton's trial, but back then, some officers
accepted her lies, and the investigation stalled.
Over the next 30 months, Pickton
continued to kill women at a ferocious rate. By my count, 14
women whose DNA was found at the farm went missing from August
1999 until Pickton was finally arrested and his farm searched in
Fourteen dead women. Is that not "too costly" for anyone?
And, don't forget, it was no stroke of investigative
brilliance that finally got police onto Pickton's farm. It was a
rookie RCMP constable investigating a tip about weapons. If
that's all it took, could police not have tried something
similar back in 1999?
Yes, people make mistakes. But systems can be fixed to reduce
errors and that's what a review has to examine.
The B.C. government no doubt fears exposing its own failures.
We're one of the last provinces in Canada to establish regional
police forces. Instead, we have a patchwork of municipal
departments and RCMP detachments on the Lower Mainland and
Greater Victoria. An independent review might well show that
such a bizarre system puts people's lives at risk.
Vancouver police, after all, were under intense pressure to
solve the missing women case. The RCMP, however, felt no such
heat. Is that why they took their sweet time getting onto
Pickton's farm? And would a regional force tasked with solving
the missing women case as well as pursuing Pickton have found a
way to get to him sooner?
Premier Gordon Campbell looks like he has no interest in
asking those questions, let alone listening to the answers. The
deaths of 14 women should leave him no choice.
Politicians, police and the media were asleep at the switch
when relatives began asking questions about these missing women
years ago. Let's not doze off again when we're this close to
finally giving them some answers. v
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