RCMP, Vancouver Police blame each other at Pickton
The Canadian Press, June 5, 2012
The two police forces that together failed to stop serial killer Robert Pickton
have ended a public inquiry pointing their fingers at each other, leaving it to
the inquiry's commissioner to sort out who to believe and who, if anyone, to
The Vancouver police and the RCMP have both faced allegations that missteps by
individual officers and apathy among senior management led to badly flawed
investigations that were unable to stop Pickton, even as it became more likely
that he was behind the disappearances of sex workers from the Downtown Eastside.
Both have offered apologies for not doing more, but neither will accept blame.
The Vancouver police insist that the fault lies at the feet of the RCMP, while
the Mounties argue the opposite.
'Hindsight is the wrong lens to use to evaluate past conduct.'—RCMP
lawyer Cheryl Tobias
The two forces were conducting separate but related investigations in the late
1990s and early 2000s: Vancouver into the disappearances of sex workers, and the
RCMP into Pickton as a potential suspect.
Eventually, the police combined forces to form a joint investigation, dubbed
Project Evenhanded, which was formed to look for links between missing sex
Vancouver police lawyer Tim Dickson told the inquiry that while police in the
city investigated missing person cases involving sex workers, the Mounties took
responsibility for the investigation of Pickton because he lived in their
The RCMP appeared to take the investigation seriously at first, said Dickson,
vigorously investigating tips implicating Pickton in 1998 and 1999.
Investigation grew stale
But by late 1999, the investigation appeared to grow stale. The lead RCMP
investigator was transferred off the case and months at a time passed during
which nothing was done on the file, said Dickson.
"The real failure of the Pickton investigation is that chronicle of inaction,"
"The great shame of this is that this was the police force's best chance to stop
the killings by catching the killer. Coquitlam RCMP's failure to pursue the
Pickton investigation with the vigour and the resources it required is really
the heart of the police force's failings in relation to the tragedy of the
While the Vancouver Police Department has acknowledged its own senior officers
were slow to realize a serial killer was operating in their city, Dickson said
the department's greatest fault was not pressing the RCMP to do more to
The RCMP, however, rejected the Vancouver Police Department's suggestion that
the Mounties were solely responsible.
RCMP lawyer Cheryl Tobias said the two forces should have combined their efforts
much earlier, but she said that didn't happen because Vancouver police were slow
to realize the gravity of the investigation.
"There was a delay in forming a formal joint-forces operation of the kind that
was necessary to deal with the complex and extensive investigation," she said.
"But the evidence has shown that the delay was mostly, if not entirely, due to
the delay that occurred in the management in the Vancouver Police Department
coming to realize that a serial offender likely was involved."
In addition, Tobias said one of the reasons the RCMP's investigation slowed in
1999 and 2000 was because Vancouver police did not tell RCMP investigators that
women were still disappearing.
Benefit of hindsight
That mistaken belief meant the RCMP didn't consider the case to be an urgent
public safety concern, she said.
Tobias said officers on the ground did the best they could with the information
they had at the time, but she said all they had was a series of uncorroborated
tips, which didn't amount to proof that Pickton was the only suspect worth
"Hindsight is the wrong lens to use to evaluate past conduct," said Tobias.
"It should not be used to judge the efforts of those who did not have the
advantage to know how things ultimately turned out."
Both forces have issued apologies for not doing enough to catch Pickton — the
Vancouver police in 2010, and the RCMP earlier this year. But both forces have
also insisted their officers did the best they could at the time and they
shouldn't be judged with the benefit of hindsight.
Commissioner Wally Oppal has heard from dozens of witnesses, including current
and former members of the Vancouver police and the RCMP.
His final report, due by Oct. 31, will detail what each police force did and
resolve conflicts in the testimony at the inquiry.
While he can't assign legal blame or liability, Oppal can make findings about
whether either force or their officers acted properly or ought to have done
Closing arguments are scheduled to wrap up on Wednesday.
Pickton was arrested in February 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of
The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm, though he told an
undercover police officer that he killed a total of 49.