VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Vancouver Police officer defends book about murdered women in Pickton case
BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE APRIL 4, 2012
Vancouver police Det. Const. Lori Shenher told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Wednesday that she stands by most of a book she wrote that is full of raw grief about the murdered women, as well as scathing criticism of police.
Shenher, who was the lead investigator in the late 90s when dozens of women went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, was also convinced after solid tips in 1998 that now-convicted serial killer Robert Pickton was the only prime suspect.
“Elation, shock, dread, excitement, sorrow, grief -- it was all there,” Shenher wrote in the book about how she felt when she learned on Feb. 5, 2002, that the joint VPD-RCMP Missing Women task force was searching Pickton’s farm.
Asked on the stand if stood by what she wrote, Shenher replied “Yes.”
Shenher also wrote that she dreamt frequently that she had found the missing women, but would wake in sorrow, knowing they wouldn’t ever be found alive.
She wrote: “The police were searching the property of the man I had always considered our No. 1 suspect and they were finding evidence.”
She agreed that she had “hoped and prayed” it wouldn’t be Pickton who was found to be murdering women but agreed she wrote in her book, “But it was. It had always been Pickton.”
Commissioner Wally Oppal, who has read Shenher’s book, refused Thursday to enter the book as an exhibit open to the public, despite strenuous objections by lawyer Cameron Ward, acting for 25 missing and murdered women’s families.
Oppal said that he already has heard a great deal of evidence that the VPD was dysfunctional and that infighting hindered the missing women investigation.
Ward then read long passages from the book into the public record, asking Shenher to comment.
She muted some of her criticisms but stood by most of what she wrote, in a cathartic rush from mid-2002 until early 2003.
Shenher said she never published the book, not because the VPD “suppressed” it, as Ward suggested, but because the Pickton investigation was ongoing and evidence was emerging that was clearly going to lead to a long legal process.
“I stand by most of what I wrote,” Shenher told Ward.
Shenher wrote that she left the case in 2000 “in what I saw as a protest move.
“I was protesting the lack of commitment to the case by VPD management, the lack of resources to do the job properly... and the lack of action in the Pickton investigation.
“I felt that as long as I was there, management would feel the case was in good hands and being dealt with by someone who could continue to put a good spin on it and assure the public and the families we were doing all we could.
Those words written almost a decade ago are still true, Shenher said.
The book also contains some chilling details never-before revealed about the Pickton farm.
“Again I heard from investigators close to the Pickton case that they had witness testimony indicating the women were used as sport for Pickton’s pigs -- thrown into the pen still alive and savaged and chased by the pigs until they died. Some were apparently shot after a time, others were mercilessly left to the pigs.”
Shenher told Ward that she believed that to be true, but said she couldn’t recall which police officer gave her that information.
Ward then asked: “Clearly, based on your work, Pickton didn’t act alone?” but Shenher was stopped from answering the question by an objection from her lawyer David Crossin.
Shenher will be back on the stand Thursday morning at the inquiry, which will conclude formal hearings by the end of April, then continue closing arguments into May. Oppal must deliver his final report by the end of June.
Shenher interviewed in jail the small but feisty woman who was the victim of a vicious knife attack by Pickton in 1997.
Part of the inquiry’s mandate is to find out why charges against Pickton were stayed in 1998, in connection with the near-fatal attack on a sex worker.
“You were smaller than I remembered you to be... half-aboriginal, half-white with wild, curly dark hair and a small shy smile,” Shenher wrote, addressing the victim of the 1997 attack directly in her book.
Shenher wrote that the woman seemed crystal-clear and credible about what had happened, even though the Crown in the end stayed attempted murder charges against Pickton.
Shenher wrote: “All I could say was this should have happened three years ago.
“My mind spun, trying to calculate the number of women who had gone missing in the time since we received compelling information about Robert Pickton back in 1999.”
Shenher wrote: “How many more might have been saved had he been in jail on an Attempt Murder conviction.”
Shenher asked the woman, who is expected to take the stand at the inquiry next Tuesday, why it didn’t go to trial.
“You said you were pissed, you couldn’t understand why that prick wasn’t in jail. I asked you what you thought the reason for that. was. You said the Crown said you weren’t credible. On account of your drug addiction, you explained. As if that was typical.”
“I was reminded again of all the ways that poor, drug-addicted women are dismissed.”
Asked at the inquiry Wednesday if she believes that today, Shenher replied, “Absolutely. I would expand on that and say dismissed by government, by society, by everybody.”
Shenher also vouched for her chilling summation in her book of the VPD investigation into the missing women: “There was no real plan to find these women. I was given no specific direction other than deal with those files, which I took to mean find these women.
“Looking back, I see now that dealing with these files meant manage them, manage the families and do what I could with few resources, even less support and no hope of more, even when the number of missing grew almost by the month.
“I see now that I was merely a figurehead, a sacrifical lamb thrown into an investigation the VPD management was convinced would never amount to anything and would never grow into the tragedy it has become. An investigation they could care less about.”
Asked about that excerpt Wednesday, Shenher said she stands by what she wrote.
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Updated: August 21, 2016