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B.C. orders public inquiry into Pickton case

VICTORIA - There will be a public inquiry into the flawed police investigation that allowed serial killer Robert Pickton to continue hunting sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

VICTORIA - There will be a public inquiry into the flawed police investigation that allowed serial killer Robert Pickton to continue hunting sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong said Thursday hearings will be held to examine how police handled reports of women being lured from the poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside to Pickton's farm in nearby Port Coquitlam.

"This is a situation in which upwards of 50 human beings went missing. We believe many, if not all, of those individuals were murdered," de Jong told reporters following a provincial cabinet meeting in Victoria.

"There are still lingering questions about the nature of these investigations, questions about whether more could have been done sooner, are we in a position to learn from the investigations and mistakes that may have been made.

"The government has taken the view that the best vehicle by which that can be accomplished is a public inquiry."

De Jong declined to reveal who will oversee the inquiry, which will have the power to compel testimony from witnesses, and it's not clear how soon it could begin.

The terms of reference are also not yet public, but de Jong said he wanted it to examine how dozens of women could disappear for years before authorities determined the disappearances could be the work of a single killer.

"How did this happen?" said de Jong.

"How is it that human beings, members of our society, whatever their socioeconomic circumstances, could go missing in the manner that they did without it seeing a full appreciation of the magnitude of what it seems was taking place until some years had passed?"

Pickton was arrested in 2002, setting off a massive search of his sprawling farm where investigators found the remains or DNA of 33 women. He was charged in the deaths of 27 women and eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.

But the extensive investigation that followed the discovery of dismembered bodies and personal items from missing women stood in contrast to what many, including the victims' families, have long complained was the failure of Vancouver police and the RCMP to catch Pickton sooner.

Pickton's convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in July and prosecutors have said they don't intend to pursue any further criminal charges, including the 20 further murder charges he had been facing.

Lillian Beaudoin's sister Diane Rock was among the 20. Beaudoin said Thursday she isn't interested in hearing the horrible details of the trial again.

"I just want justice. And if justice means digging this far deep into it and finding out why the police made all the mistakes that they made and how this could have been prevented — (that's) one of my main concerns," she said.

Rock was one of the last to be murdered.

In news releases, Vancouver Police and the RCMP said they welcomed the inquiry.

"This comprehensive, independent and impartial review of the entire investigation is the only way to determine the facts of what could have been done better," the RCMP said in a news release.

"It is our hope that this process, while very difficult, will result in a sense of final closure for the families of the victims."

The Vancouver force said families of the victims "deserve to know why it took so long to arrest him."

The inquiry will be a chance to examine any "systemic barriers to the most effective policing in the Lower Mainland."

The VPD released an exhaustive review of its handling of the case last month. The report detailed a series of missteps by both the Vancouver force and the RCMP, including failing to effectively share information, a lack of leadership on both forces, scarce resources and a bias against sex workers among some Vancouver police staff.

It said even after Vancouver police first forwarded information about Pickton to the RCMP in the late 1990s, 13 women disappeared from the Downtown Eastside, 11 of whom were later linked to Pickton's farm.

The report put much of the blame on the RCMP, accusing the federal force of letting the investigation lay dormant for months and botching an interrogation of Pickton in January 2000 — more than two years before his arrest.

The RCMP has prepared a similar review, but it has not yet been released. The Mounties have suggested their report will contradict some of the Vancouver Police Department's conclusions.

RCMP Insp. Tim Shields said now that the inquiry has been called, the RCMP's report won't be released any time soon.

"The only appropriate venue for the RCMP to release information into the public domain will be during that inquiry," Shields said.

"We want to avoid a situation where there is finger-pointing and where the case is actually tried in the media instead of being examined critically by an independent and thorough process."

Families and friends of women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside started sounding the alarm in the early 1990s, but some have said when they reported those disappearances to police, they were told the women had likely moved elsewhere.

Kate Gibson, executive director of the Women's Education and Safe House in Vancouver, was ecstatic about the announced inquiry.

"I think it's just huge that they will be doing this. I think for all kinds of individuals, this is a very necessary next step."

She said she hopes the inquiry will be led by a woman, preferably an aboriginal, and someone who will be willing to take the hearings to the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

She said the inquiry will be most useful if it focuses not just on the women who have been killed and their families, but also on those who are living lives that make them vulnerable to predators like Pickton.

Last month, a publication ban was lifted in Pickton's criminal case, revealing he was accused of trying to kill a prostitute on his farm in 1997.

Those charges were stayed over concerns the victim would have made an unreliable witness, and Pickton continued killing.

— with files from James Keller

 
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