VANCOUVER – Allegations that sexism and bias against sex workers are rampant within the Vancouver police and played a role in the force’s failure to catch serial killer Robert Pickton are false, a senior officer from the force told a public inquiry Friday.
Deputy Chief Doug LePard, who testified at length last fall about the department’s missing women investigation in the late 1990s and early 2000s, returned to the inquiry to refute a handful of the allegations made against the force in recent months.
Many of those allegations centred on how the force treated sex workers, with former officers, civilian police employees, sex workers and families of Pickton’s victims recounting episodes in which officers treated prostitutes poorly or dismissed family members and friends attempting to report them missing.
LePard denied there is a culture of sexism that neglects sex workers, then or now.
“You’re view about whether the (Vancouver Police Department) tolerates under-enforcement or under-investigation of violence against women in the sex trade is that it’s simply not correct?” asked Sean Hern, a lawyer for the force
“No, and there are many examples now and during that time where serious crimes were committed against sex workers that vigorous investigations ensued,” replied LePard.
Rae-Lynn Dicks, a 911 operator who testified last month, described a culture in which officers believed sex workers didn’t deserve the protection of the police.
Dicks described a case, which wasn’t related to the missing women investigation, involving a teenaged prostitute who had been raped at a gas station. Dicks alleged an officer who responded to the call sent her a note on the force’s internal messaging system that said: “It’s just a hooker. Hookers don’t get raped.”
LePard said he examined all of the sexual assault calls Dicks had ever taken, and he identified the case she appeared to be referring to. He listened to an audio recording of the 911 call and reviewed records of all communication related to the case.
LePard said there was no record of any messages sent to Dicks, let alone the one she described.
And LePard said the story Dicks told the inquiry contained numerous factual errors about the call, what the victim told her, and how the case was handled.
“This example was held up by Ms. Dicks as something she would never forget, as an example of the bias that Vancouver police members held against sex workers,” said Hern. “In your review of the file, what is this file indicative of?”
“When you Google Ms. Dicks,” replied LePard, “what you come up with is multiple articles that said missing women were considered scum of the earth, and it was just entirely inconsistent with what was actually going on. In fact, what it was an example of is the type of police officers that we had in the 1990s doing that work, that dealt with the case very professionally, did everything that could be expected.”
The case resulted in a conviction against the woman’s attacker, who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison, LePard said.
LePard also denied allegations from Marion Bryce, mother of Patricia Johnson, whose remains were found on Pickton’s farm.
Bryce claimed she was treated poorly by a 911 operator when she attempted to report her daughter missing.
LePard said he located the recording of the 911 call that generated the first missing person report in Johnson’s case. The call actually involved another of Bryce’s daughters, said LePard, though it appeared Bryce was next to the phone.
He said the operator taking the call was professional and courteous.
“It was a very pleasant conversation, she (Bryce’s daughter) finishes off by saying,’ Thank you very much for all your help, it was wonderful,’” said LePard.
The testimony on Friday was limited to a small handful of allegations, mostly dealing with attitudes towards women and sex workers.
LePard authored a report, released in August 2010, that was highly critical of the force’s investigation and identified a number of failings. But the report also concluded sexism and anti-sex-worker bias weren’t factors.
LePard has apologized a number of times for not catching Pickton sooner, and the department’s lawyers have repeated that apology numerous times during the inquiry.
However, the force has spent the inquiry arguing those failings are only apparent with the benefit of hindsight. Officers did the best they could with the information they had, the department insists, and shouldn’t be blamed now,
Pickton was arrested in 2002 and eventually convicted of six counts of second degree murder, though the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his property in Port Coquitlam.
He once told an undercover officer that he killed 49.