VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Single officer assigned to missing-persons unit by '97, inquiry hears
SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE November 7, 2011
Vancouver deputy police chief Doug LePard told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Monday that by 1997, the VPD’s missing persons unit had only one detective and one civilian clerk.
LePard, who wrote a 450-page report that was released in 2010, is expected to testify for several days at an inquiry trying to determine why it took police so long to catch the very active serial killer Robert Pickton.
LePard conducted an internal review and spoke to dozens of VPD members, but he did not interview any Downtown Eastside advocacy groups or family members who had failed for years to get the VPD to pay attention to missing women.
In 1997, LePard noted that the Missing Persons unit didn’t even have a computer, “it seemed to be a manual, paper-based system.”
Another detective wasn’t added until 1998, while women continued to vanish.
Many of the missing women’s family members have told the inquiry of the VPD’s apparent failure to take down details of their vanished loved one or even create a file, particularly if she was an aboriginal woman using drugs.
Several murdered women’s relatives said they gave many details to a female Missing Persons clerk only to find much later that no file was ever opened.
The clerk’s name was Sandy Cameron and she is expected to testify later.
When LePard released his report in 2010, he backed a public inquiry that could go further, saying “We think we owe it to the victims and the public.”
Today, LePard got support from an unexpected quarter, when Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women Support Services, said outside the courtroom that LePard has been a highly-principled ally.
“We’ve had a long relationship with Doug LePard — he has been a staunch advocate in addressing violence against women through changes to policy and practice throughout the ‘90s,” said MacDougall.
“It was I believe his report which was one of the strong catalysts to getting this inquiry in the first place.”
LePard’s report was highly critical of VPD handling of the Pickton case but he agreed with Inquiry Counsel Art Vertlieb that his goal is not to blame individuals but “to make sure another Pickton never happens again.”
LePard said the Missing Persons unit was attached to major crime, which had other serious crimes such as sexual assault and homicide to investigate.
LePard began his testimony with details of his career and the VPD structure but he will be addressing issues raised in his 450-page report.
When LePard’s report was released in July 2010, he made a sincere apology.
“So I wish to say to the families that we’re sorry from the bottom of our hearts that we didn’t catch him sooner and protect more women from being harmed,” LePard said then.
His report dealt with a series of problems with the missing women investigation, including lack of communication and poor leadership,
LePard’s report was especially critical of the RCMP in Port Coquitlam, the site of Pickton’s farm, where he murdered and scattered the remains of at least 33 women. Pickton boasted in jail that he had killed 49 women.
Pickton is convicted of murdering six women, but the inquiry is examining a Crown decision to stay an additional 20 charges against him after his legal appeals were exhausted in July 2010.
The inquiry, which Commissioner Wally Oppal has extended once but is now determined to wrap up by the end of April, also will hear from the RCMP and Peel, Ontario Region deputy Chief Jennifer Evans, before Christmas break.
Evans did an extensive “independent” review of all VPD Missing Persons cases, getting unusual access to data, and the inquiry has been waiting for her report.
Originally slated for the end of September, then October, Evans’ next release date has been set for Nov. 14, before she takes the stand.
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Updated: August 21, 2016