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Missing women investigation: Liberal MLA files complaint: Tony Bhullar says his call for inquiry is unrelated to his own case vs. police

The Vancouver Sun
Sat 09 Mar 2002

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Surrey-Newton MLA Tony Bhullar filed a formal complaint with the Police Complaints Commission Friday over the initial Vancouver police department investigation into the disappearance of 50 women from the Downtown Eastside.

Bhullar couriered the documents to the office of commissioner Don Morrison Friday afternoon.

He told The Vancouver Sun he filed the complaint because too many questions have been raised about the police investigation begun in 1998 into what was then more than two dozen missing women, most of whom were sex-trade workers struggling with drug addiction.

The families and the public are entitled to answers as to why more was not done earlier to solve the disappearances, Bhullar said.

The complaint specifically refers to allegations that police received information years ago that was not followed up on, Bhullar said.

He said he could not provide a copy of his complaint because to release it would violate a section of the Police Act.

But Bhullar said he is seeking a public inquiry into police handling of the case headed up by a judicial officer.

"You have got to do what is right. It is too easy to take the path of least resistance," Bhullar said. "And I am not going to sit there with my knowledge of the law and sit idly by when those poor grieving people out there have no idea that an investigation can be called."

Commissioner Don Morrison was out of the province and unavailable for comment Friday, but his office confirmed the complaint had been received.

Bhullar said the complaint was made under Section 53.1 of the Police Act, which allows for third party public interest complaints.

While many people, including Solicitor-General Rich Coleman, have said a public inquiry cannot occur until the criminal investigation is completed, they have not explained why, Bhullar said.

A public inquiry would look at systemic problems with the case, he said, and would not go into details about evidence against any individuals.

"The longer we wait for a public inquiry or an investigation, people's memories will begin to fade and some evidence may begin to dissipate, which could clarify what went wrong. We've got to ensure that this never every happens again no matter what group it is in society," Bhullar said.

Bhullar, a former RCMP lawyer, said the missing women complaint has nothing to do with his current situation. Last month he was charged with obstructing a police officer and attempted obstruction of justice, stemming from a verbal confrontation with police five months ago at the Vancouver home of his mother.

Vancouver police Detective Scott Driemel said Friday he was unaware of the complaint being filed. And Driemel said without details of what has been alleged, it would be impossible to comment.

On Feb. 22, Robert (Willy) Pickton, a 52-year-old Port Coquitlam pig farmer, was charged with two counts of first degree murder in connection with the deaths of Sereena Abotsway, 29, and Mona Wilson, 26 -- two of the missing women who both vanished last year.

His farm remains the scene of a massive search by the Vancouver police-RCMP Missing Women Task Force.

The task force took over the missing women case from the the stalled Vancouver police investigation last spring, conducting a review of the original files, as well as missing person files from around B.C.

A Sun investigation last fall revealed that the original Vancouver police probe was assigned to inexperienced and overworked officers without the time or resources to do a thorough job. They were further hindered by infighting, a lack of proper training and computer problems, The Sun reported.

Earlier Friday, a Port Coquitlam provincial court judge refused to unseal three 1997 search warrants involving the Pickton property and an attempted murder charge against Pickton that was stayed in January, 1998.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had filed an application to see the warrants and the police information used by a judge to issue them.

But Judge Pedro de Couto ruled that both the warrants and police information should remain sealed in order to protect Pickton's right to a fair trial on the current charges.

He noted that prosecutor Richard Romano has said the Crown intends to call evidence related to the 1997 charges in the current case as "similar fact" evidence.

And he said he is conscious of the "intense white heat" of media interest in the Pickton case.

"As stated so well by all counsel, there is massive public interest and extensive international coverage. That attention is focused and intense and has generated a notoriety that cannot be ignored," de Couto said.

While the judge acknowledged the media have constitutionally guaranteed rights, he said accused persons have rights, too.

"No accused should have to face his trial in an on-going torrent of unfair publicity. No judge or jury should have to strain to banish unfair and unsupported publicity from their minds so that they can reach an impartial verdict based on the evidence," he said.

Publication of some parts of de Couto's 13-page ruling was banned after arguments from Romano and Pickton's lawyer Peter Ritchie.

The earlier charges, which including one of unlawful confinement, as well as assault with a weapon, related to the alleged stabbing of Wendy Lynn Eistetter, a Downtown Eastside sex trade worker, on March 23, 1997.

The date of the earlier charges is well within the scope of the current police investigation into disappearances that date back to 1983, de Couto said.

CBC lawyer Dan Burnett said de Couto had a difficult balancing act: "A judge is kind of like an umpire, and he knows where the strike zone is. He understood the principles and he had to make the call."

kbolan@pacpress.southam.ca 

 

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016