VPD report expected to criticize Pickton investigation
Published Wednesday, August 18, 2010 6:30PM PDT
The Vancouver police will release a report in three weeks attempting to explain why police were so slow to catch Robert Pickton as he hunted women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and a pair of former officers say both the municipal force and the RCMP should share in the blame.
The internal, 450-page review by the Vancouver Police Department will likely heighten calls for a public inquiry once it's made public on Sept. 9, detailing what many have long said were the failures of both forces to work together or take reports of missing sex workers seriously.
The RCMP also has an internal report on the way, although it's not clear when that will be released.
"I think there's enough blame to go around," said Doug MacKay-Dunn, who worked for the Vancouver police for three decades and was a staff sergeant in the Downtown Eastside in the 1990s when most of the 26 women Pickton was charged with killing disappeared.
"I think it's a combination of circumstances. I think there's problems within the department, in terms of egos and hurt feelings, and jurisdictional issues between the (municipal) forces and the RCMP."
The two forces have faced criticism for years for failing to respond quicker and with more resources when families and friends of sex workers in the Downtown Eastside reported them missing throughout the 1990s.
That criticism intensified earlier this month after a publication ban was lifted in Pickton's criminal case and Canadians learned Pickton had been accused of trying to kill a prostitute on his Port Coquitlam farm in 1997, but the charges were stayed. He continued killing, and some have suggested the case should have prompted the RCMP to finger Pickton years before he was finally arrested in 2002.
Pickton was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women he picked up in Vancouver and killed on his Port Coquitlam farm, although he had been charged with another 20 and the police have linked him to at least 33.
While the Downtown Eastside was the jurisdiction of Vancouver police, Pickton's farm was in RCMP territory.
MacKay-Dunn said the RCMP has a history of dysfunctional relationships with municipal police forces, which be believes contributed to the lack of information shared between the police forces and their inability to connect the dots sooner.
"The RCMP have always considered themselves to be Canada's national police force, and the best police force in Canada -- period," said MacKay-Dunn, now a municipal councillor in North Vancouver.
"Anyone that's not a member of the organization is made of lesser stuff."
MacKay-Dunn also has plenty of criticism for Vancouver police, especially for ignoring information provided by former inspector Kim Rossmo, a geographic profiling expert who says was ignored when he warned the department a serial killer could be at work.
Rossmo, who now works in the United States, is among the growing number of people calling for a public inquiry to examine the investigation -- a list that also includes former Vancouver police officer Dave Dickson, whose work in the Downtown Eastside focused on helping sex workers.
In the mid-1990s, Dickson compiled a list of 31 women he confirmed had disappeared from the troubled neighbourhood, but the response was mixed.
While his own inspector was supportive, he recalls others within the Vancouver force and at other police agencies were dismissive.
"There were some attitudes around the table -- one inspector said, 'How do we know they (haven't) moved away and turned their life around?' I said, 'No, not 31,"' said Dickson.
"I remember when I was making phone calls to two cities and I was inquiring about a sex-trade worker, and I got the same comment, word for word: 'You're looking for hookers?' They were really astonished that we would bother."
Dickson agreed that information sharing was a major problem between Vancouver police and the RCMP, although he suggested that was likely a problem with individual officers rather than a wider turf war.
For Dickson, the fact that Pickton was allowed to snatch women from the Downtown Eastside without anyone noticing speaks more to the poverty that pervades the area rather than what police did or didn't do.
He said a public inquiry will be able to touch on how both police and governments address the problems that prevent women like Pickton's victims from escaping lives of drug addiction and prostitution.
"It still boils down to the fact that the women are out there jumping into strangers' cars because of addiction," he said.
"How do we allow these women at an early age to work on the streets and sell themselves on the streets? We have no prevention, there's other victims out there just waiting."
The B.C. government hasn't said whether it will call a public inquiry.
Premier Gordon Campbell said a decision won't be made until cabinet has had a chance to consider the RCMP and Vancouver police reports, likely at the beginning of next month.
"We want to look at all this information and look and see how can make sure we learn as much as possible from this to stop it from happening ever again in the future," said Campbell, who said he hadn't seen either report.
"We will look at all the information and we will look at ways that we can pursue that in the most effective way possible to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. ... We intend to do that. I believe we should do it properly."