VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
RCMP lawyer seeks sweeping ban on sensitive Missing Women documents
NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN November 2, 2011
VANCOUVER -- The RCMP's lawyer at the Missing Women inquiry is seeking a sweeping ban on sensitive information contained in documents that are expected to be made public soon
Cheryl Tobias, the federal lawyer representing the Mounties, has filed an application seeking to ban third-party information such as the names of suspects in the police investigation that led to the 2002 arrest of serial killer Robert Pickton.
The application was made earlier but was put off until today so as not to interrupt the testimony of family members of Pickton's victims.
Tim Dickson, the lawyer representing the Vancouver police department and the Vancouver police board, told the inquiry earlier that police documents contain "a huge amount of confidential information," including the names of sex trade workers and people listed on "bad date sheets who have not been convicted at this time."
Bad date sheets are often issued with licence plate numbers of violent customers who have raped and assaulted street prostitutes. They are distributed to women working the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
At least two lawyers, Cameron Ward and Jason Gratl, are expected to oppose the sweeping ban sought by the federal government and supported by Vancouver police.
Ward is representing 18 families of murdered and missing women at the inquiry. Gratl is representing residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where dozens of sex trade workers disappeared.
Gratl told the inquiry earlier that the federal government's application is too broad.
He suggested the public should be able to know the names of suspects who are convicted sex offenders.
The RCMP's position is that the names of suspects should not be publicly released because it could jeopardize active investigations of unsolved cases.
The federal government is seeking a ruling before a number of high-ranking police officers begin testifying next week, starting Monday with Vancouver Deputy Chief Doug LePard.
LePard earlier released a report on the Vancouver police failures to solve the missing women case and he apologized to the victims' families for not doing a better job.
The inquiry also must make a ruling this week on Gratl's application to offer protection for vulnerable witnesses, including prostitutes who don't want to be publicly identified if they testify about such illegal activities as street prostitution and using illegal drugs.
Ward also plans to apply for a one-week adjournment because of the late disclosure of some documents, including the release late Tuesday of the notes of Vancouver police Const. Dave Dickson, who was accused of lying during the testimony Tuesday of Elaine Allan, who worked from 1998 to 2001 at the WISH (Women's Information and Safe House) drop-in centre for street sex trade workers.
Ward told Oppal on Tuesday that the disclosure of police documents to date has been inadequate.
The lawyer's application for an adjournment prompted a testy exchange Tuesday with inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.
"We have to move this thing, you know," Oppal told Ward, adding the inquiry has a deadline of June 30 next year to submit its final report.
"You told me, sir, on the first day of hearing that as a result of my disadvantage of not getting access to this disclosure until June, I could have as much time as I needed on behalf of my client," Ward responded.
"I didn't say you were at a disadvantage," Oppal said. "You're not at a disadvantage here. You're on a level playing field and I wish you'd stop saying you're at a disadvantage because you're not."
Ward responded: "You told me, sir, that if I felt I was disadvantaged that they [police lawyers] have had longer to prepare for these hearings than I have had, your words were that you'd give me time to prepare."
Ward said he needed until Monday to make his application for an adjournment, but Oppal suggested it could be done by Thursday.
Darrell Roberts, the independent lawyer appointed by the inquiry to represent aboriginal women, told Oppal he was opposed to Ward's application to adjourn.
"I want this hearing to continue," Roberts said. "On Monday, I believe Deputy Chief LePard is scheduled and I want nothing to interfere with that."
Ward said earlier that he wanted to have disclosure of the expert report of Peel Regional Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans before he cross-examined LePard.
The report was supposed to be finished by Oct. 31 but Ward said outside court Tuesday that he still has not received it.
Inquiry spokesman Chris Freimond said Wednesday the commission now hopes to have the Evans report by Nov. 14.
Evans was asked by the inquiry to provide an expert opinion on the missing women investigations done by the RCMP and Vancouver police.
Last August, two groups granted standing at the inquiry, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Pivot Legal Society, called for the removal of Evans and two other Peel regional police officers who were assisting in the review of police documents.
BCCLA president Robert Holmes said at the time that his group and others were deeply concerned that having the Peel officers work closely with the Missing Women inquiry seriously undermined the perceived independence of the inquiry.
Using active-duty police in the Missing Women inquiry created the appearance of police investigating police, which two previous public inquiries in B.C., into the deaths of Robert Dziekanski and Frank Paul, found to be unacceptable, Holmes said.
The Missing Women inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, despite tips to police in 1998 that Pickton may be responsible for the disappearance of all the missing women.
The inquiry will also examine why the Crown chose to drop serious charges against Pickton in 1998.
Pickton was charged in 1997 with attempted murder and aggravated assault after stabbing a prostitute a number of times.
The woman, who had slashed Pickton with the same knife when he put a handcuff on her wrist, escaped naked and bleeding from Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam. She flagged down a passing car, which took her to hospital.
After his arrest in 2002, Pickton confessed to an undercover officer that he killed 49 women and planned to kill two dozen more.
The serial killer was charged with the first-degree murder of 27 women, which the trial judge divided into two trials.
Pickton, 62, was convicted at his first trial in 2007 of six murders.
After exhausting all appeals, the Crown decided it wasn't in the public interest to hold a second trial because Pickton was already serving six life sentences.
Live streaming of the inquiry is available online at 2 p.m. today at: http://www.missingwomeninquiry.ca/
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016