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RCMP seeking to dispose of evidence from Robert Pickton case, prompting concerns from advocates

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The B.C. RCMP is seeking to return or dispose of thousands of pieces of evidence seized during the investigation into serial killer Robert Pickton, prompting concerns from advocates for missing and murdered women.

Dozens of organizations and individuals have signed a letter opposing a court application from the RCMP requesting permission to dispose of an estimated 14,000 exhibits related to the Pickton case.

According to the letter, the items were "collected from the Pickton farm and various other Pickton-related properties and associates" as authorities were investigating the deaths and disappearances of more than 50 women who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"The majority of these missing women are Indigenous and their cases remain unsolved to this date," the letter notes.

Pickton was only ever convicted in six of the murders, receiving the maximum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

He was charged in 20 other murders – and DNA evidence linked additional missing women to the Pickton farm – but authorities said Pickton would not face another trial, citing the lack of provisions under Canadian law for consecutive life sentences.

Sasha Reid, a psychologist who created a database of missing people and unsolved murders, and who co-authored the letter, said the concept of "compromised justice" is an ongoing source of pain for many of the families of Pickton's victims.

"You hear their anger and their concerns and their frustration," said Reid, who helped compose the letter following conversations with several of the families. "To them and so many others, this case feels problematic."

A number of those family members are expected to make a public statement on Monday, as the letter is delivered to Canada's public safety minister, as well as B.C.'s attorney general and solicitor general.

The letter’s 42 signatories come from four different provinces, and include organizations such as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, and the WISH Drop-in Centre Society.

In a statement, Staff Sgt. Kris Clark of the B.C. RCMP's E Division noted that police are "not authorized to retain property indefinitely."

"While the RCMP is making applications to the court for the 'disposal' of property held by the police, it is important to understand that all evidence is being preserved," Clark wrote.

"Ultimately, this process is required by law and is for the intended purpose of returning property to the rightful owners, where applicable, or for the disposal of items not claimed."

He also said authorities have been "working closely with the victims' families to return their loved ones' belongings, as well as local First Nations to ensure disposal is done in a culturally sensitive way."

Reid said the RCMP's court application indicated that families had been provided notice of the disposition effort – but that "every single one" of the families she has spoken to "firmly denies that they had ever been contacted."

"That is a problem," she added.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is also among the signatories of the letter. In a statement, Aislin Jackson, the BCCLA's policy staff counsel, said the organization is "proud to support the families of victims in seeking accountability and justice for their loved ones."

Clark told CTV News the RCMP's disposition of the thousands of exhibits "would not affect any future prosecution."

Lawyer Jason Gratl, who is representing some of the victims' families in a civil case against Pickton and his brother, said some of that evidence could be crucial to their lawsuit.

"Even if this is an RCMP cold case, that doesn't justify the destruction of evidence that could be used to apprehend unindicted co-conspirators or co-perpetrators of these crimes," he added. "There's no reason to think Robert Pickton acted alone."

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