VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Senior Vancouver cops failed to take 'ownership' of missing women investigation, inquiry told
BY NEAL HALL, POSTMEDIA NEWS NOVEMBER 21, 2011
VANCOUVER — Senior Vancouver police refused to take "ownership" of the disappearance of dozens of women from the Vancouver streets, an inquiry heard Monday.
Portions of a highly critical external report were read out to the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry on Monday, slamming police for not providing adequate resources to the investigation.
The report by Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans concluded that Vancouver police senior management provided no direction to investigators.
Inquiry commission counsel Art Vertlieb read out excerpts from the report during questioning of Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard after it was leaked to the media.
The inquiry is investigating why it took Vancouver police and RCMP until 2002 to catch serial killer Robert Pickton when they were receiving detailed tips as far back as 1998.
Pickton, 62, is serving a life sentence for the murders of six women. He was charged initially with killing 20 more but those charges were stayed in 2010.
The serial killer has been linked by DNA to the deaths of 33 women and has boasted to an undercover police officer that he killed at least 16 more.
The Evans report said it was the job of the deputy chief at the time, Brian McGuinness, to ensure proper resources were provided to the investigation, which was plagued by staff shortages.
Evans also found McGuinness failed to properly supervise then-inspector Fred Biddlecombe, who was in charge of major crime and the missing person unit.
LePard testified that McGuinness, if he could do it over again, probably would have done things differently.
But at the time, he said, police didn't realize they were dealing with an active serial killer preying on women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Still, LePard agreed that the police executive should be held accountable.
He also agreed with Evans' criticism of former police chief Bruce Chambers and Terry Blythe for failing to give enough attention to the disappearances.
"I believe he did not recognize and take ownership of the missing women issue," Evans' report said of Chambers.
"I believe he failed to take ownership of the issue,'" the report said of Blythe.
"It was such a concern to the community that it demanded attention and action," the report added.
Evans was also critical of then deputy chiefs Gary Greer and Al Unger for not ensuring Vancouver police asked earlier for a joint forces operation with the RCMP.
The Evans report did single out Vancouver police Det. Const. Lori Shenher for her "heroic" efforts to try to investigate the case and get more officers assigned to the missing women investigation.
LePard told the Vancouver inquiry Monday that a full-time sergeant should have been assigned to the missing women investigation.
"It would have made a huge difference," he told the inquiry.
Instead, the investigation was overseen by Sgt. Geramy Field, who ran the homicide section and tried to oversee the missing women case "from the side of her desk," LePard said.
"It was completely unreasonable and unrealistic," he said of the additional demands made on Field.
LePard said he was impressed by the Evans report, which he said was "98 per cent" consistent with his own report, released last year.
The inquiry asked Evans to provide an expert opinion and analyze what went wrong with the Vancouver police and RCMP investigations of Pickton.
The Evans report was filed Monday as an exhibit for identification only, meaning it won't be made public yet because of an objection by lawyer Cameron Ward.
Ward, who is representing 20 families of missing women, objected because he wants to challenge Evans' status as an expert witness.
Evans is not expected to testify at the inquiry until January.
The inquiry has heard testimony already from family members of Pickton's victims, who said police didn't take the reports of missing women seriously enough.
LePard testified that police initially believed that the cases of women gone missing were historical "so it didn't raise the level of urgency that it ought to."
Pickton attacked a woman with a knife on his Port Coquitlam, B.C., farm in 1997 and the woman escaped naked and bleeding to the street. She flagged down a passing car, and the driver took her to hospital.
Three informants told Vancouver police about Lynn Ellingsen witnessing Pickton butchering a woman in his barn one night, but the RCMP interviewed Ellingsen, who denied she had seen anything.
She later admitted she was blackmailing Pickton.
Pickton had offered money to a person to lure Ellingsen to his farm, so she could be killed.
Pickton was finally arrested in February 2002 after a junior Mountie executed a search warrant on Pickton's farm to look for illegal weapons.
After officers found identification of some of the missing women, it turned into a homicide investigation and the search of the farm continued for 18 months.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016