Bias toward killer's victims led to police failure

AP News
Posted: Dec 17, 2012 5:04 PM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Systemic police prejudice against the poor, drug-addicted sex workers who convicted killer Robert Pickton targeted in Vancouver allowed him to spend years hunting his victims unimpeded by authorities, said a report released Monday by a public inquiry into what police have called Canada's worst serial killing case.

Commissioner Wally Oppal's 1,448-page final report chronicles years of mistakes that allowed Pickton to lure dozens of women to his farm in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, with little interference from police and even less concern from the public.

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of six counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of sex workers. He slaughtered the women at his suburban pig farm and fed some of the remains to his pigs. Pickton was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

Pickton picked the women up from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, several square blocks of squalid hotels, drug dealers and street-level prostitution, luring his victims with promises of money, alcohol and drugs.

There were reports of missing women in Vancouver dating back to the 1980s, and those disappearances increased dramatically in the mid-1990s.

When relatives and friends attempted to report those women missing, officers and staff with the Vancouver police department told them the women were transient drug addicts who weren't in any trouble or were simply on vacation, Oppal's report notes, referring back to testimony from those families at the inquiry.

Oppal wrote in his report, "Forsaken," that police did not take the disappearance of the women seriously because the victims were poor, aboriginal and addicted to drugs.

"The missing and murdered women were forsaken by society at large and then again by police," said Oppal.

While Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder, 20 other charges of first-degree murder were stayed.

Commission lawyer Art Vertlieb said DNA from 32 identified missing women and one unknown woman were found at the farm Pickton owned with his siblings in Vancouver's Port Coquitlam suburb.

The report said the first major investigative blunders began in 1997, when Pickton attacked a sex worker at his farm. It was later revealed DNA from other missing women were on his clothes that day. Pickton was charged with attempted murder, but prosecutors stayed the case in 1998, after which 19 more women later connected to Pickton's farm vanished.

Oppal said it was "patently unreasonable" that that investigation was not further pursued.

Pickton had been tagged as a prime suspect in 1999 as police investigated reports of missing sex workers and Pickton bragged to police after his February 2002 arrest that he had killed as many as 49 women and intended to kill more.

Oppal, a former judge, concluded police failed to fully investigate Pickton, 63.

"Recurring patterns of error . . . went unchecked and uncorrected," Oppal said.

Vertlieb told Oppal in his opening statement to the inquiry that Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo said a serial killer was at work but his assertions were dismissed by police superiors.

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In his report, Oppal said the women's lives were marked by violence, addiction, racism and mental health issues.

He said the relationship between police and sex workers is marked by distrust. He said poor report taking and follow-up of missing women lead to "critical failures" by police. He said leads about Pickton would have been generated had police acted on reports.

He also concluded police "utterly failed" to warn women of dangers to their safety.

Oppal began the inquiry hearings in October 2011 after the Supreme Court of Canada rejected Pickton's final conviction appeal in 2010.

The report contains 63 recommendations, among them establishing a regional police force for the Vancouver area and that police must be more accountable to their communities.

Diane Rock was among one of the victims in the 20 charges stayed against Pickton by prosecutors.

Her sister, Lilliane Beaudoin, hopes the report will be taken seriously and that people in Pickton's poverty-stricken hunting ground will be helped.

"I'll never have closure," she said. "It's hard to feel one's lost a loved one when there's no burial. There are no remains of my sister. I can't comprehend that."

The case was the largest criminal investigation in Canadian history.

A Vancouver Police Department August 2010 report said 11 women may have been spared had city police or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police acted on information available four years before Pickton's arrest.