Ont. cops reviewing VPD, RCMP conduct for Pickton inquiry
The inquiry into the Robert Pickton case is getting some guidance from a controversial source -- the Peel Regional Police Service.
The Toronto-area force's deputy chief and two other officers will be reviewing the actions of the Vancouver police and the RCMP, which took years to acknowledge a serial killer was preying on sex-trade workers on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Chris Freimond, a spokesman for the inquiry, said the Peel officers will have access to the entire police archive and will report their findings to the inquiry.
They may also be called as witnesses, but they will not be providing advice to the inquiry, he said.
"They'll be providing evidence based on their expertise. They're not there as advisors to tell the commission how to do its job."
Freimond said Peel's Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans has a lengthy background in police work and worked on the inquiry into the investigation of Ontario sex-killer Paul Bernardo.
But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has complained the Peel Regional Police Service is under a cloud because three of its officers have been tainted by a drug probe.
Robert Holmes, president of the association, said previous inquiries into police actions in British Columbia -- including the inquiry into the death of a Polish immigrant who was repeatedly hit with a police Taser -- have concluded that police should not be investigating police.
"The missing women's inquiry has not only retained three police officers to investigate the police, but they have chosen police officers from a force that has members who are under investigation by the RCMP," Holmes said in a news release.
"This commission has repeatedly shown it has a tin ear for how its moves will play before the public."
Holmes also complained that while the Peel officers have had access to the document archive, no aboriginal leaders or representatives of families of missing women or social advocacy groups have been brought in by the commission for the same purpose.
But Freimond said that's not the case.
"In fact, a number of potential expert witnesses have been approached or have approached the commission themselves and have offered their services," he said, adding he understood that all participants in the inquiry will have access to the commission document file.
"There certainly will be expert witnesses for that side as well."
Freimond said the Peel officers have donated their time and the inquiry has only paid their expenses on those occasions when the three officers have travelled to Vancouver.
He said expenses for expert witnesses representing other points of view will also be paid.
The inquiry has come under heavy criticism over the past few weeks as more than half a dozen groups have said they will not participate because of the government's refusal to pay their legal costs.
Commissioner Wally Oppal has recommended that those cost should be covered.
Last week, Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik'uz First Nation near Vanderhoof in central B.C. said the commission would not be welcome in her territory.
Besides examining what happened during the investigation into the Pickton case, the commission is also holding nine study sessions in northern British Columbia about the disappearances of women along the so-called Highway of Tears between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
Thomas said in a letter she was angry that legal funding had not been provided to groups representing sex-trade workers and aboriginal women.
On Thursday, Chief Larry Nooski of the Nadleh Whut'en Indian Band echoed her concerns.
Both bands are members of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, which has been granted standing at the inquiry but has withdrawn over the funding issue.
In a letter, Nooski accused the commission of holding "race-based" meetings, saying the commission has been meeting with aboriginal leaders and local mayors separately.
"I have personally met and worked with local mayors for years to achieve the goal of ending the divisive 'cowboys and Indians' approach," Nooski said in his letter.
However, Freimond said Nooski and Thomas have misunderstood the preliminary work the commission has been doing.
He said a commission lawyer and staff member were in the north earlier this summer to consult with area mayors and First Nations leaders about the upcoming study sessions.
Meetings were set up with three mayors and three aboriginal leaders and the meetings were one-on-one. Freimond said two aboriginal leaders had to cancel their meetings at the last minute.
The commission lawyer met with Thomas, he said.
Still, Nooski said in his letter that the commission would not be welcome on his territory and he urged Oppal to resign.
The forums will begin Sept. 12 and anyone can attend and present, Freimond said.