On the eve of his report's release, head of B.C.'s
probe into missing women calls for co-operation
VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Missing Women Commissioner Wally Oppal is urging all sides in the horrific
Pickton murder case to set aside their differences and work together to combat
ongoing problems of poverty and the status of aboriginal people in Canada.
In an interview ahead of Monday’s long-awaited release of his report into
authorities’ handling of the disappearance of scores of women from the Downtown
Eastside of Vancouver, the former attorney-general indicated those social
factors were at the root of lengthy indifference by police and others to the
“The term may be harsh, but they were seen as nobodies,” an emotional Mr. Oppal
said of the victims, most of whom were drug-addicted prostitutes from the city’s
poorest streets. “They were seen as poor and vulnerable … throwaways.
“In fact, they were like anyone else. They were mothers. They were sisters,” he
Robert Pickton, considered the worst serial killer in Canadian history, was
eventually convicted and sentenced to life in 2007 for murdering six of the
missing women. Traces of DNA linked to 27 others were found on his notorious pig
farm in Port Coquitlam, and he once claimed to have killed 49 women. More than a
third of his victims were aboriginal.
Mr. Oppal’s exhaustive report is expected to come down hard on police, who have
acknowledged grievous errors in their response to the missing women, allowing
Mr. Pickton to continue his murderous spree, until his arrest in February, 2002.
Vancouver police stated categorically in 1998 that they did not believe a serial
killer was afoot in the Downtown Eastside and provided few resources for
investigators. Tips about Mr. Pickton were not followed up seriously.
But the two-year inquiry has been dogged by controversy. Many advocacy groups
withdrew from the process, critical that police had lawyers while they were
denied government funding.
They also complained the inquiry’s terms of reference were too narrow, focused
on police matters rather than broader issues, such as the plight of sex-trade
Nevertheless, Mr. Oppal reached out to them.
“Here we are in 2012, and we as a society have collectively allowed poverty to
exist, especially in aboriginal communities,” he said. “Even our detractors are
there because they believe in the cause of the women, the poor. Whatever
political differences there were about the inquiry really have to be set aside
for the greater good. The community has to come together.”
The heartbreak of the families left behind by Mr. Pickton’s victims had a
profound impact on the inquiry, Mr. Oppal said. He put up a poster of the
missing women at home as a constant reminder of the tragedy. “We’re all human,”
Ernie Crey’s sister, Dawn, was one of the women whose DNA was found on Mr.
Initially, Mr. Crey shared criticism of the inquiry. However, he subsequently
accepted the reality of the situation, worked with other families, and
He says he is hopeful Mr. Oppal’s findings and recommendations will be strong
enough to ensure there is no repeat of the circumstances that allowed a serial
killer such as Mr. Pickton to go unapprehended for so long.
“I want to see what sort of justice can be salvaged from all of this for my
sister, and the other missing women. That’s what kept me in there.”
Besides, Mr. Crey said, he doesn’t believe Dawn would have wanted him to be
“yelling and jumping up and down. I think she would have wanted me to hang on to
my dignity, and advocate quietly.”
Over the years, the pain of losing his sister has eased, but it’s far from gone.
“This was my baby sister. I changed her diapers. I fed her pablum. So the loss
was profound, for me and everyone in our family,” Mr. Crey said.
“I can’t get this image out of my mind, of the terrible fate my sister must have
met...” His voice broke.
Families of the missing women will receive the report four hours before it is
made public. Counselling will be provided by the province for family members who