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Advocates, victims' families oppose police plan to destroy Robert Pickton evidence

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Sarah Jean de Vries fears there will be no justice for the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton if the RCMP goes through with its plan to destroy or return thousands of pieces of evidence seized in the case.

Her mother's DNA was found on Pickton’s Port Coquitlam pig farm along with that of more than two dozen missing women.

“Getting rid of that evidence destroys all chances we have for future cases and cold cases in Canada,” she said at an emotional news conference Monday. 

She's part of a group of more than 40 signatories, including organizations, advocates and loved ones of Pickton’s victims who sent a letter Monday to Canada’s public safety minister and B.C.’s attorney general and solicitor general asking for the evidence to be preserved.

“This latest step by the RCMP to seek disposal of all exhibits a mere 20 years after the investigation on the farm began sends the message that the missing and murdered women's cases are closed, despite the majority of them being unsolved,” Sue Brown, staff lawyer at Vancouver-based Justice For Girls said.

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.

The RCMP has sent five applications to the court dating back to December 2020 seeking permission to return or destroy an estimated 14,000 exhibits seized during the Pickton investigation, Sasha Reid, a researcher of missing and murdered cases explained, adding that her team has been able to obtain only one of the applications. She said in that application, the exhibits were listed as having no evidentiary value.

“I'm concerned because advances in DNA analysis are growing every single day. You can't say that there's no evidentiary value,” said Reid. “There are other reasons for why that evidence has evidentiary value. How about the fact that this is an unsolved, ongoing case where there are very clear, very obvious, other suspects?”

She said it is unknown how much evidence—which includes the victims’ personal items like clothing, shoes and hairbrushes—has already been disposed of. “We are trying to preserve whatever's left,” Reid said.

RCMP SAY EVIDENCE PRESERVED

In a statement Monday, the B.C. RCMP said it is not authorized to keep property indefinitely, so it must apply to the court to have it disposed of. “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,” Staff Sgt. Kris Clark wrote.

“To be clear, as all possible evidence has been captured and retained, the disposal of property would not affect any future prosecution.”

He added that police 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.”

The victims’ family members at the press conference Monday said they had not been informed of the plan to do away with the exhibits.

“Destroying was evidence to me says they are covering something up. They never informed my family,” said Lorelie Williams—cousin to Tanya Holyk, one of the women Pickton was accused of killing—through tears. “There's already no justice in Tanya’s case because it's a stayed case.”

‘THERE ARE ADDITIONAL PERPETRATORS’

Beyond preserving the exhibits, the group called for continued investigation into the murders, emphasizing that the pieces slated for destruction could reveal additional suspects.

“This is, as far as I'm concerned, an open and ongoing investigation,” Reid said. “If we fail to stop these applications to dispose of evidence, we essentially vitiate any chance of bringing additional perpetrators to justice. And there are additional perpetrators.”

She said after reading every publicly available document about the case, “there's absolutely positively no way that you go through that information and come out thinking it was only Robert Pickton.”

When de Vries’ mother disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in 1998, she was last seen getting into a car not driven by Pickton, she said. “Yet she ended up on that farm,” de Vries said. “So who was that person that drove her out to that farm? What was the licence plate of that car? Is he still out there?”

“And I truly believe that every single person who stepped foot on that farm, every single person who brought a woman into that farm, anyone who was working on that farm, should be held accountable for what they did, or what they’ve seen or what they heard,” said de Vries.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RESPONDS

In a statement Monday, Attorney General Niki Sharma said when dealing with the RCMP’s applications, the court must ensure that “any dispersal of evidence will be conducted with sensitivity and involving appropriate engagement with the families of victims.”

She noted victims’ service workers have “cooperated with the RCMP in engaging affected family members in the past,” to ensure people are given proper notice when applications like these are going through the court. “Where the province can continue offer our assistance and support to those efforts, we will provide it, especially considering the immense grief and pain these families have gone through, and continue to go through,” she continued.

Sharma added her understanding is that the court will receive submissions on “how to avoid any steps that could unduly jeopardize the integrity of future investigations.”

With a file from Andrew Weichel 

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