With inquiry done, Pickton victims' families cautiously hopeful for change
Wendy Cox, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, December 17, 2012 8:09AM PST
Last Updated Monday, December 17, 2012 8:45PM PST
VANCOUVER -- Families of women believed murdered by serial-killer Robert Pickton welcomed the massive inquiry report into the police bungling that allowed the pig farmer to continue killing, saying wearily they hope it will lead to positive change.
Lori-Ann Ellis, whose sister-in-law Cara Ellis's remains were found on Pickton's farm, said Monday she was impressed with Commissioner Wally Oppal's thoroughness, but said she also thinks he wasn't able to see the whole picture because of the limitations in his mandate.
"It's a baby step, but at least we're moving in the right direction," she said.
"At some point in time, in order for the families to start healing, we have to trust someone. Do I think it's going to change overnight? No."
Pickton was convicted in 2007 of the murder of six women, while charges involving 20 others were stayed. The remains of a further seven women were found on his farm.
Ernie Crey said he, too, was "deeply impressed" with the report. Crey's sister's DNA was found on the Pickton farm.
He acknowledged the inquiry process had shortcomings and many groups remain angry that they were left out.
But he added, "It really boils down to, what do we do about it? I'd rather spend my time doing concrete things today and tomorrow and the day after that than just being critical and not participating in the process.
"We need to work with what we have."
But if the families were cautious in their support for the inquiry report, other players in the long-running story were sombre, some were contrite and others were terse.
Attorney General Shirley Bond was overcome with emotion as she noted her government will be moving immediately on some of the recommendations.
"It is my ardent hope that British Columbia never has another chapter like this in its history," Bond said, fighting back tears.
"Anyone who begins to read the report will know how difficult it is ... It's almost impossible to imagine that could have happened in the province of British Columbia."
In keeping with Oppal's recommendations, Bond said her government will give an extra $750,000 to the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, which provides services to women involved in the sex trade. As well, former lieutenant governor Stephen Point, an aboriginal, has been given the job of guiding the government's response to the recommendations.
NDP attorney general critic Leonard Krog said the report is a "very sad comment."
"No British Columbians today can take pride in what this report reveals about our society," he said.
"The police involved, I would hope, have learned a very serious and sad lesson."
Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu said his force has and is committed to learning from its mistakes.
"We know that nothing can ever truly heal the wounds of grief and loss, but if we can, we want to assure the families that the Vancouver Police Department deeply regrets anything we did that may have delayed the eventual solving of these murders."
Chu issued a statement saying the force has already taken measures to ensure the same errors are not made again, including completely overhauling the missing-persons unit and its outreach programs.
Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens, commanding officer of the RCMP in B.C., also re-stated his force's regret at the deaths.
However, he noted the force is still digesting the report and declined to take questions.
"As a commanding officer, I wish to convey to you that the RCMP welcomes today's report," he said.
"Policing is constantly evolving, and on an ongoing basis it is necessary for us to look critically at how we deliver policing services to ensure that we respond effectively to our community's needs and expectations."
Oppal's report did little to quiet those voices strongly opposed to the inquiry's composition from the outset.
They have argued repeatedly the inquiry's limited terms of reference and the refusal by the provincial government to pay for lawyers to represent sex-trade workers and aboriginal women's organizations doomed the inquiry.
The groups re-iterated their call Monday for a national public inquiry into the hundreds of murders and disappearances of aboriginal women and girls.
It's a call voiced by the Assembly of First Nations and one repeated by Human Rights Watch Monday and also by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Robertson said he has directed his city manager to immediately implement Oppal's recommendations involving Vancouver.
"It is my hope that inquiry recommendations are focused on real and lasting change -- systemic changes that need to happen to keep young girls and women safe and prevent this tragedy from happening in the future," said Robertson.
"We need to remember that just because an inquiry is completed, it does not mean action is taken."
Robertson also noted he has supported the notion of a regional police force in the past and welcomed Oppal's recommendation that the political barriers standing in the way finally be broken down and such a force be implemented.
Prof. Rob Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University and a long-time advocate for regional policing, said until now, the provincial government has been unwilling to move ahead with such an initiative.
Indeed, Bond refused to comment on the recommendation at her news conference following the release of Oppal's report.
"Unfortunately, it's taken a serial murderer like Pickton to really fire this one up and for people to see the absurdity of the policing system that we have," said Gordon.
Facts about the public inquiry into the Robert Pickton case
Terms of reference: Examine the police investigations into missing women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and the Crown's decision in 1998 to stay an attempted murder charge against Pickton related to an attack on a sex worker a year earlier; recommend changes for investigations involving missing women and multiple homicides, particularly those that span the jurisdictions of more than one police force.
Commissioner: Wally Oppal, a former B.C. Appeal Court judge and one-time attorney general who served in the B.C. Liberal government from 2005 until 2009.
Length: The formal hearings began on Oct. 11, 2011 and ended on June 6, 2012. There were community meetings in northern B.C. in September 2011 and a series of policy forums in April of this year.
Witnesses: More than 80 people testified including current and former police officers, relatives of missing and murdered women, sex workers, advocates, former politicians and academics.
Cost: The B.C. government estimates it has spent about $10 million on the inquiry.
Controversy: Criticism was constant and wide-ranging. Opponents complained the inquiry was narrowly focused on the police, advocacy groups weren't provided funding to participate, Oppal's connections to the provincial government clouded his impartiality, and the hearings were cut short without hearing from important witnesses.
Facts about the 33 women whose remains or DNA were found on Robert Pickton's farm
Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted in December 2007 of the murder of six women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Some facts about those women:
Mona Lee Wilson: Born Jan. 13, 1975, Wilson had a son. She was last seen in November 2001.
Sereena Abotsway: Born Aug. 20, 1971, Abotsway suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and lived with a foster family most of her life. She was 29 when she was last seen in August 2001.
Andrea Joesbury: Born Nov. 6, 1978, in Victoria. Joesbury had a daughter. She was last seen in June 2001.
Georgina Faith Papin: Born March 11, 1964, Papin had seven children. She was last seen in March 1999.
Brenda Wolfe: Born Oct. 20, 1968, Wolfe had a son. She was last seen in February 1999.
Marnie Frey: Born Aug. 30, 1973 in Campbell River, B.C. Her daughter, Brittney, was born five years before she disappeared and gave an impact statement at Pickton's trial. Frey was last seen in August 1997.
First-degree murder charges related to the deaths of 20 women were stayed in August 2010. Some facts about those women:
Cara Louise Ellis: Known on the street as Nicky Trimble, Ellis was born April 13, 1971 and was last seen in January 1997.
Andrea Fay Borhaven: Born Jan. 19, 1972 in Armstrong, B.C. Borhaven was reported missing to police on May 18, 1999, but was last seen in 1997.
Kerry Lynn Koski: Born Aug. 14, 1959, Koski had three daughters. She was last seen Jan. 7, 1998.
Wendy Crawford: Born April 21, 1956, Crawford had a son and a daughter. She was last seen in December 1999.
Debra Lynne Jones: Born in 1957, she was last seen in December 2000.
Tiffany Louise Drew: Born Jan. 31, 1975, Drew had three children. She was last seen March 2000.
Sarah de Vries: Born May 12, 1969, to a troubled mother and adopted at 11 months. De Vries' journals and poetry have been widely published since she was last seen April 21, 1998. Her sister, Maggie de Vries, wrote about her sister in the award-winning book Missing Sarah.
Cynthia Feliks: Born Dec. 12, 1954 in Detroit, Feliks was a mother and grandmother. She was last seen in December 1997.
Angela Rebecca Jardine: Born June 23, 1971, Jardine was mentally disabled and said to have the intellect of an 11-year-old child. She was last seen Nov. 10, 1998.
Diana Melnick: Born Aug. 26, 1975, Melnick was last seen Dec. 27, 1995.
Jacqueline McDonell: Born June 6, 1976, McDonell had a daughter. She was last seen Jan. 16, 1999.
Dianne Rosemary Rock: Born Sept. 2, 1967, Rock had five children. She was last seen in October 2001.
Heather Kathleen Bottomley: Born Aug. 17, 1976, Bottomley had two children. She was last seen April 2001.
Jennifer Furminger: Born Oct. 22, 1971, Furminger grew up in St. Catharine's, Ont. She had a son and police say she was last seen in December 1999.
Helen Mae Hallmark: Born June 24, 1966, Hallmark had a daughter. She was last seen June 15, 1997.
Patricia Johnson: Born Dec. 2, 1975. Johnson had a son and a daughter, and was last seen March 2001.
Heather Gabrielle Chinnock: Born Nov. 10, 1970 in Denver, Colo. She had two children. She was last seen April 2001.
Tanya Marlo Holyk: Born Dec. 8. 1975, Holyk had a son. She was last Oct. 29, 1996.
Sherry Leigh Irving: Born March 19, 1973, Irving was last seen in April 1997.
Inga Monique Hall: Born in 1952 in Germany, Hall had two daughters and two granddaughters. She was last seen in February 1998.
A 27th murder charge involving a woman referred to only as Jane Doe, whose remains were found on Pickton's farm, was dropped. That woman has never been identified.
Police also found the DNA of six more women on Pickton's farm. No charges were ever laid in those cases. Some facts about those women:
Nancy Clark: Born July 29, 1966, Clark was last seen Aug. 22, 1991 and reported missing to Victoria police the following day.
Stephanie Lane: Born May 28, 1976, Lane grew up in Vancouver. She was 20 years old and had recently given birth to her only son when she disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in January of 1997.
Jacqueline Murdock: Born Jan. 28, 1971, Murdock was the youngest daughter of a large First Nation family in Fort St. James. She had four children. She was last seen on Aug. 13, 1997.
Dawn Crey: Born Oct. 26, 1958, Crey was a member of the Sto:lo First Nation near Chilliwack, B.C., and had a son. She was last seen in November of 2000.
Sharon Abraham: Last seen in 2000.
Yvonne Boen: Born Nov. 30, 1967, Boen had a son. She was last seen in March of 2001.