VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Missing women inquiry hears focus was on organized crime, not disappearances
THE CANADIAN PRESS, MAY 23, 2012
VANCOUVER — In the years leading up to Robert Pickton’s arrest, police were paying careful attention to what was going on on his family’s properties, but it was organized crime, not murdered women, that was their focus, a lawyer says.
During that time, the name of Pickton’s brother, David, had been queried 107 times on the Canadian Police Information Centre. Police investigators from all over the Lower Mainland were looking for a criminal background.
One search of Dave Pickton’s record came in January 2002, just weeks before police raided the farm and discovered gruesome evidence his brother had murdered many women there.
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry into Vancouver’s missing women has already heard that a property separate from the Pickton family’s Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm, called Piggy’s Palace, was well known as a partying place for the Hells Angels and their associates.
Gary Bass, the former RCMP deputy commissioner in B.C., agreed during testimony Wednesday that several police operations were targeting the motorcycle gang in the Lower Mainland during that time.
Cameron Ward, the lawyer for two dozen family members of the murdered and missing women, suggested the women were taken to parties at Piggy’s Palace, given drugs and later killed on the Pickton farm.
“The RCMP’s organized crime agency was simultaneously conducting intelligence operations on the Hells Angels members and the associates who were frequenting the area. Does that sound accurate?” Ward asked.
“I’ve never seen any reports or had any briefings that indicated something like that was happening,” Bass replied.
But the records created by the many RCMP agencies investigating the gang haven’t been made available, Ward said.
Bass agreed that would be the way to confirm the claim.
“I suggest none of those records that may have indicated what was happening in that neighbourhood of Port Coquitlam ... have been produced to this inquiry have they?” Ward asked.
“I’m not aware of any,” Bass replied.
“The RCMP was ... focused on addressing that organization’s trafficking of illegal narcotics and trying to stop it wasn’t it?” Ward asked.
“The Hells Angels have been in the sights of police for many, many years,” Bass testified.
The inquiry is looking into the actions of police and the Crown prosecutors between 1997, when Pickton was accused of attempting to murder a sex trade worker, and when he was arrested in February 2002.
Many women, most of them sex-trade workers, disappeared from Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside during that period.
Pickton was convicted of killing six women from the area, but police found the remains or DNA of 33 women on the farm.
Bass also told the inquiry that it was obvious more should have been done to find Vancouver’s missing women but the Mounties weren’t asked to get involved in the investigation by Vancouver police.
“It wasn’t my responsibility,” he said.
The RCMP major crimes section was providing some help to the missing women’s investigation in 1998, but wasn’t in charge of it, he testified.
Vancouver police still believed the women had simply gone missing on their own, even though RCMP thought foul play was involved as far back as 1995, Bass said.
When the major crime section was finally asked to review the missing women’s case in 2000, Vancouver police didn’t have their files ready and the investigation was delayed for another six months.
Bass told the inquiry that the RCMP believed there were three serial killers operating in the province at the time — in Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and in northern B.C.
Police decided to focus on the valley murders because they had DNA exhibits, he said.
“Ironically, they still have not been solved,” Bass added.
In 1999, police records indicated there were at least 45 unsolved prostitute murders in the province.
Pickton was arrested in 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second degree murder, though the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his property in Port Coquitlam.
He once told an undercover officer that he killed 49.
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RCMP was monitoring club frequented by Pickton, probe told
The RCMP was monitoring an after-hours hangout during the same period that serial killer Robert Pickton lured some of his victims there to be abused and drugged, a lawyer for the victims’ families suggested at the Oppal inquiry.
During a cross-examination Wednesday of former RCMP deputy commissioner Gary Bass, lawyer Cameron Ward said RCMP were monitoring Mr. Pickton’s brother, David, as part of a narcotics investigation that included surveillance of the infamous Piggy’s Palace, where Mr. Pickton brought prostitutes he picked up from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“I suggest what likely happened here … was [the women] were taken from their usual environment in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, out to the Port Coquitlam neighbourhood, where they were taken to parties at Piggy’s Palace,” said Mr. Ward.
Piggy’s Palace, located on a rural road around the corner from the Pickton farm, was an after-hours night club run by Robert and Dave Pickton. Mr. Ward said Piggy’s Palace was well known as a gathering place for members and associates of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
The women from the Downtown Eastside were given drugs at Piggy’s Palace, “used and abused,” and later killed at the Pickton farm “while the RCMP’s organized crime agency simultaneously conducted intelligence operations on Hells Angels and associates who frequented the area,” Mr. Ward suggested to Mr. Bass.
However, both Mr. Bass, and later Wednesday deputy chief Doug LePard, of the Vancouver Police Department, dismissed Mr. Ward’s suggestion. “There is no information to support what Mr. Ward is suggesting,” deputy chief LePard told the inquiry.
Mr. Bass, who was B.C.’s top Mountie when he retired last year, said he had not heard about Piggy’s Palace until after Robert Pickton was arrested in February, 2002. He did not know Dave Pickton was a suspect in an illegal narcotics investigation, he said.
Mr. Bass confirmed that the RCMP in the 1990s conducted several large-scale operations involving investigations into the Hells Angels motorcycle clubs in the Lower Mainland. Full-patch members were convicted after an investigation into the motorcycle club that involved an agent buying drugs, Mr. Bass said
Keeping close tabs on the Hells Angels was “absolutely” a priority for the RCMP between 1997 and 2002, the five years leading up to Robert Pickton’s arrest, he said.
However, Mr. Bass said he was not aware that the inquiry had any documents on what was happening at Piggy’s Palace. He had never seen any reports or had any briefings that indicated that women were being killed while the RCMP had Piggy’s Palace under surveillance, he told the inquiry.
The inquiry would have to look at the records of the RCMP’s criminal intelligence section or the organized crime agency during the period they conducted their investigation, he said. Those records have not been submitted to the inquiry.
During the questioning of Mr. Bass, Mr. Ward said police officers checked out Dave Pickton on their internal record system 107 times before Robert was arrested in 2002. The inquiries came from several police detachments, including Vancouver, New Westminster, Delta, Coquitlam, Surrey and Richmond.
The RCMP physical surveillance section took an interest in Dave Pickton as a suspect in illegal narcotics, Mr. Ward said.
Public hearings at the inquiry are to conclude this week. Former attorney-general Wally Oppal was appointed in the fall of 2010 to look into the police investigation leading up to the arrest of Robert Pickton in 2002.
Mr. Pickton was convicted of six murders and once said he killed 49 women. Mr. Oppal is to submit a final report to the provincial government by the end of June.
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Updated: August 21, 2016