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Vancouver police managers failed to take ownership of missing women issue, inquiry told

BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN  NOVEMBER 22, 2011


VANCOUVER -- Senior management of the Vancouver police department failed to take ownership of the missing women investigation and failed to provide adequate resources, the Missing Women inquiry heard today.

Inquiry commission counsel Art Vertlieb, during questioning of VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard, read out portions of a new report that was highly critical of two successive VPD chiefs and three deputy chiefs.

The report by Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans concluded that no one in the VPD's senior management and executive provided direction on the missing women investigation.

Evans 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 Insp. 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 missing women problem.

""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 John Unger for not ensuring Vancouver police asked earlier for a joint forces operation with the RCMP.

Evans report did single out Lori Shenher for her "heroic" efforts to try to investigate the case and get more officers assigned to the missing women investigation.

LePard said a full-time sergeant should have been assigned to the missing women investigation.

"It would have made a huge difference," he told the inquiry.

The sergeant should have been the one advocating more resources, he said.

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 Evans report has not been made public but was leaked to a TV reporter last Friday.

Missing Women inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal said he was upset over an "ethical lapse" that led to a report being leaked to the media.

"I find it reprehensible," Oppal said as the inquiry resumed Monday after a one-week break.

"I find it upsetting and I'm disappointed," he said of the report being leaked Friday to a television outlet, which passed it along to Toronto-based newspaper.

The inquiry asked Evans to provide an expert opinion and analysis of what went wrong with the Vancouver police and RCMP investigations of serial killer Robert Pickton.

LePard said the VPD should have issued a warning by August 1998 that police were investigating a possible serial killer.

"It was a significant possibility, given all the red flags," he said.

"The failure to warn the public that women were still going missing was a mistake," LePard added.

The Evans report was also critical of the RCMP's handling of the Pickton investigation.

Evans said then RCMP chief superintendent Gary Bass failed to make further inquiries and should have directed in 2000 a coordinated response between the RCMP with the VPD to investigate Pickton and the missing women.

Evans pointed out that at a meeting attended by Bass and Bob Paulson in March 2000, Staff-Sgt. Keith Davidson said there were three serial killers operating in B.C.

Evans concluded that a regional police force would have provided a quicker and more coordinated police response.

"I strongly agree," LePard said.

The Evans report was filed today as an exhibit for identification only, meaning it won't be made public at the moment, because of an objection by lawyer Cameron Ward.

Ward, who is representing 20 families of Missing Women, objected because he wants to challenge Evans being tendered as an expert witness.

Evans is not expected to testify at the inquiry until January.

The inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, who was arrested in 2002 and was eventually charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder.

The inquiry has already heard testimony of families of Pickton victims, who said police didn't take the reports of missing women seriously enough.

LePard testified that police initially believed that the women who had gone missing were historical "so it didn't raise the level of urgency that it ought to."

It didn't become apparent until mid 2001 that an active serial killer was preying on women working as street prostitutes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver police received tips about Pickton in 1998 and he was the VPD's prime suspect.

Pickton had attacked a woman with a knife on his Port Coquitlam farm in 1997 and the woman had escaped naked and bleeding to the street. She flagged down a passing car, who 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 to keep quiet.

Pickton had offered money to a person to lure Ellingsen to Pickton's farm, so she could be killed.

Pickton was finally arrested in February 2002 after a junior Mountie executed a search warrrant 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.

Pickton's murder charges were divided into two trials.

A jury at his first trial in 2007 convicted Pickton of killing six women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

After Pickton exhausted all his appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed with a second trial involving another 20 murders, which outraged the families of the victims.

Pickton confessed to a jail cell mate - an undercover officer posing as a criminal - that he killed 49 women and planned to kill dozens more.

A First Nations group of about a dozen people have formed a circle of drummers and singers at the intersection of Georgia and Granville, blocking traffic.

The drumming can be heard inside the inquiry.

A large number of the missing women were first nations.

nhall@vancouversun.com

Read the Evans report, part one - www.vancouversun.com/pdf/DC_Evans_Report_-_Part_1.PDF

Read the Evans report, part two - www.vancouversun.com/pdf/DC_Evans_Report_-_Part_2.PDF

Read the Evans report, part three - www.vancouversun.com/pdf/DC_Evans_Report_-_Part_3.PDF

 

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016