All eyes will be on Wally Oppal as he presents his findings and recommendations from the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to the public Monday.
But few will be looking on as intently as Ernie Crey and the other families of missing and murdered women – victims of serial killer Robert Pickton – who have endured years of pain and sat through the much criticized and lambasted inquiry.
Oppal, the former Attorney General, said his report represents “an opportunity to make real change in British Columbia.”
For the families, it offers an opportunity for authorities to ensure the horrific loss of life they suffered won’t be in vain.
More than a dozen organizations boycotted the inquiry after the province refused to extend legal funding to all those except immediate family.
Key witnesses involved in the investigation weren’t called, or weren’t cross-examined, as the authors of departmental reviews years after the fact ate up valuable inquiry time.
Despite the clouds hanging over the inquiry, Crey remains hopeful.
He wants change. He needs it.
“Police allowed this guy to repeatedly slip through their hands,” said Crey. “Had they been better co-ordinated, they would have nabbed him much sooner.”
His sister Dawn Crey, who’s DNA was found on Pickton’s farm, may still be alive if they had.
When it came to pointing out how Vancouver police and the RCMP botched the case, Crey said the inquiry was a success.
The big question is whether Oppal will dare go beyond his terms of reference and tackle issues like sex-worker safety, poverty in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) and the systemic challenges faced by Aboriginals.
“I’m not sure the commissioner was equipped with the right flippers for such deep waters,” said Jason Gratl, independent lawyer representing the Downtown Eastside at the inquiry.
Gratl said the inquiry rushed through the existing social issues that came to light, particularly early testimony from experts on the discrimination and social exclusion faced by sex-trade workers.
Kate Gibson, of the WISH drop-in centre for sex-trade workers, also doesn’t expect the recommendations to venture far into the societal realm.
While police policies have evolved since Pickton’s arrest, the conditions faced by women in the sex trade haven’t, she said.
“Pickton was just one person,” she said. “The level of violence perpetrated against sex workers today is just as terrible. We receive almost daily reports of violence and abuse. I don’t think things have changed.”
If the recommendations can’t, Crey hopes newfound public awareness of those issues can facilitate change.
“[The inquiry] exposed the circumstances faced by women to hundreds of thousands of British Columbians,” he said. “We can’t overlook these folks, the DTES is living testament these people are still being neglected.”
Terms of Reference
Commissioner Wally Oppal is bound to the following terms of reference:
(a) to conduct hearings, in or near the City of Vancouver, to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the conduct of the missing women investigations;
(b) consistent with the British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Davies, 2009 BCCA 337, to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998, to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against Robert William Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault;
(c) to recommend changes considered necessary respecting the initiation and conduct of investigations in British Columbia of missing women and suspected multiple homicides;
(d) to recommend changes considered necessary respecting homicide investigations in British Columbia by more than one investigating organization, including the co-ordination of those investigations;
(e) to submit a final report to the Attorney General or before December 31, 2011.
Quotes from the inquiry:
“It’s difficult, it’s been 10 years now. We have to seek the truth and get the truth about what went on with my sister,” Lilliane Beaudoin on Oct. 19, 2012, the 10-year anniversary of Dianne Rock’s disappearance.
“I never came to know why these charges were stayed. I found it incredibly frustrating that was their perception. Had she died, as morbid a thought as it is, we probably would have had a slam-dunk murder conviction without her testimony,” Vancouver police Detective Const. Lori Shenher on the decision to stay charges against Pickton in 1998 because prosecutors believed the victim was an unreliable witness.
“It was sort of like this dark force out there. We could feel this evil force that was swallowing up all these women but we couldn’t figure out what it was,” WISH drop-in centre’s Elaine Allan on the fear hanging over Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in 1998.
“The evidence will show … the police investigation as a whole was nothing short of an epic failure,” Mark Skwarok, lawyer for former VPD investigator Kim Rossmo.
“There was never any question from the VPD missing women review team that he was always rated No. 1 on the list,” Vancouver police deputy chief Doug LePard on the department’s opinion of Robert Pickton in 1999.
“It is with the greatest regret that I must deliver the unanimous message from our clients that this pubic inquiry, from their perspective, has been almost a complete failure. It has shut down the hearings prematurely, having failed to hear from critical witnesses and having failed to compel the production of critical documents,” Cameron Ward, lawyer for the families of the murdered women, during closing submission at the inquiry.
“We have an opportunity to make real change in British Columbia; change that helps to better protect our most vulnerable citizens, and by doing so, leaves a positive and lasting legacy for the missing and murdered women,” Commissioner Wally Oppal after delivering his final report to the government.
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry heard from Vancouver police that 13 women could have been spared if Robert Pickton had been arrested by August 1999 – when he was considered the No. 1 suspect by VPD: