VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police prep families ahead of Pickton hearing
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos, CTV News Staff
Some of the family members of 63 women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside met with police in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday to be briefed ahead of a preliminary hearing for Robert William Pickton.
The 52-year-old Pickton, who has been charged with the slayings of 15 of the 63 missing women, is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on Nov. 4.
On Sunday, the joint RCMP-Vancouver Police Joint Missing Women Task Force took family members through the court procedures, but did not talk about evidence in the case.
"There was no discussion of the evidence other than in the most general way," Crown counsel Mike Petrie said. "We'll wait until we get into court."
Family members were somewhat shocked when they found out there would only be 30 seats in the courtroom during the hearing.
Ernie Crey, who sister Dawn vanished in 2000, told the Vancouver Province he was "surprised" and "disappointed" that seating for families would be so limited. But he hoped that other arrangements might be made if interest is very high.
However, Crey was happy that the case was finally going ahead.
"We can't forget a couple of years ago there were no charges proffered against anyone here and we are two years later and the gentleman is facing 15 charges of murder," Crey said.
"I measure that as progress."
The four-hour meeting with police was a painful one for some family members, including Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry disappeared in June 1997.
"Every time I come to these things, it's always emotional anyway," Gagnon said. "Because it's an ugly thing to deal with."
Dozens of women, including one transsexual, have gone missing from the streets of downtown Vancouver since 1978. About 38 of those women -- all drug-addicted sex-trade workers -- have disappeared in the last six years.
The case gained momentum in February after the joint task force descended on the Pickton pig farm and adjoining properties in suburban Port Coquitlam. Just over two weeks later, two counts of first-degree murder were brought against Pickton. In the following months, many more followed.
Now the case is heading to a preliminary hearing. However, that was thrown into doubt two weeks ago after Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, withdrew from the case. Ritchie and lawyer Marilyn Sanford quit after the province refused to grant Pickton legal aid.
On Friday, the attorney general's office tabled a new interim package in the hopes that Pickton's legal defence would return to the case. Ritchie has yet to respond. However, even if the money does come forward, both sides say it is too late for lawyers to properly prepare for Pickton's preliminary hearing.
But Petrie said they are preparing their case and will be ready to start.
Ritchie has said that Pickton would need a team of six lawyers, plus experts and private investigators, to adequately cover his defence on the 15 counts of murder.
With a report from BC-CTV and files from The Canadian Press
Updated: August 21, 2016