Pickton inquiry must go beyond police failures, advocates say
Published Sunday, September 12, 2010 6:40PM PDT
The public inquiry into the case of serial killer Robert Pickton must be about more than just the failure of police to catch him if it hopes to prevent the same thing from happening again, advocates say.
Instead, they say the inquiry should be about the dozens of missing and murdered women from Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside -- not only those who ended up dead on Pickton's farm but also those whose deaths were the work of someone else.
"It can't be just on the Pickton victims, because we won't address that broader issue of how we prevent this type of violence, where we're essentially offering up the women to serial predators," says Jamie Lee Hamilton of the Community Inquiry Committee, a collection of advocates and community groups who've been calling for an inquiry.
"There are still women whose cases remain unsolved, there are still women -- after Pickton was arrested -- who are going missing."
B.C.'s solicitor general, Mike de Jong, announced last week that the province will be holding a public inquiry to find out why dozens of women were allowed to disappear before Pickton was finally caught.
Pickton was convicted of killing six women, but the remains or DNA of 33 were found on his farm and he bragged to police about killing nearly 50. He was able to continue his rampage for years before he was arrested, despite warnings a serial killer was preying on sex workers in the Downtown Eastside and evidence that specifically pointed to him as a suspect.
De Jong hasn't said who will oversee the inquiry or what its terms of reference will be, but he suggested the widely criticized police investigation will be its primary focus.
However, Hamilton says the hearings must look at the other forces that make the women vulnerable to predators such as Pickton.
"If we don't look at it in that broader area, we will have failed," she said in a phone interview Sunday.
"Just focusing on the police and the RCMP is not going to do any good. We have to come up with a plan to prevent this type of violence from occurring."
Hamilton's group is also urging the province to consider a woman to oversee the inquiry, because the hearings will inevitably examine issues of gender inequality.
They have suggested B.C.'s Children's Representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who acts as the province's watchdog for the child welfare system. Turpel-Lafond is on leave from her position as an administrative judge in Saskatoon.
Turpel-Lafond was unavailable to comment about whether she's been asked or whether she'd be interested in the job.
Lee Lakeman of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter says the commissioner of the inquiry doesn't necessarily have to be a woman, but she said it should be somebody well-versed in equality issues.
"It's not important to me that it be a woman, but it is important that it be someone who is attached to equality rights," said Lakeman in an interview.
More important than that, says Lakeman, is that the hearings be structured in a way to allow "equality-seeking groups" to participate in some form -- including the ability to access government funding.
She notes there are no longer programs to fund participation in such legal proceedings, such as the federal Court Challenges Program, which was killed by the Conservative government.
"We have no way of getting the money that anybody will need to be able to participate in this inquiry unless the government specifically decides to grant it," says Lakeman.
Kate Gibson, executive director of the Women's Education and Safe House in Vancouver, also known as WISH, agrees a wide array of voices must be included, although she suggests there are several different ways to do that without requiring everyone to hire lawyers and apply for formal standing.
Gibson suggests holding community consultations alongside the inquiry, inviting feedback outside a courtroom setting.
"It has to include the voices of families and groups that have been involved, I think that it's really important for all those people to have a voice," she said in an interview last week.
"One of the things that we have talked about has to do with having things that went alongside it, so groups would be able to have representation there and we make sure that people are heard and that it's accessible."
Dave Dickson, a retired Vancouver police officer who was one of the first to sound the alarm about missing women in the 1990s, looks forward to testifying at the inquiry.
He also argues the hearings should look beyond the actions of police to answer the more important questions about why women are forced onto the streets in the first place.
"I don't care about the RCMP or the Vancouver police, because they're always going to make mistakes," says Dickson.
"I'd like to look at the bigger issue, the lack of resources and treatment for these women."