Pickton inquiry report to be released today amid torrent of criticism

Nadine Kalinauskas
Daily BrewDecember 17, 2012

Today in Vancouver, the final 1,448-page report from the public inquiry into the case of serial killer Robert Pickton will be released.

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report is expected to explain why Pickton wasn't caught before 2002 — the inquiry heard that police had evidence linking the killer with the disappearances of sex-trade workers years before he was finally arrested — and what should be done to prevent similar failures by police in the future.

The report is unlikely to satisfy its greatest critics. Some advocacy groups claim the inquiry was flawed from the start as it "was too narrowly focused on police and failed to give adequate voice to the vulnerable women it was set up to protect," CBC News reports.

Last month, West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), the Pivot Legal Society and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association released a report that criticized the way the inquiry was conducted.

[ Related: Commissioner set to release report into why police failed to catch Pickton ]

Many human rights groups, alarmed by the lack of funding for legal representation for aboriginal and women's groups, refused to participate in the inquiry.

"I will say it again; this was a missed opportunity to include the voices of marginalized women, of marginalized communities. It perpetuated the very problems it sought to alleviate," Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast LEAF, said last month.

Lawyer Neil Chantler believes the inquiry neglected to look at systemic problems and prejudices, including sexism and racism allegations, within police forces and instead focused on "technical policing failures."

[ Related: Pickton inquiry accused of failing marginalized women ]

Both the Vancouver police and the RCMP have offered apologies — and disclaimers that including blaming each other — for not catching Pickton earlier.

Pickton, who is currently serving a life sentence, was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. CBC News reported that the DNA of 33 women was found on his farm. Pickton once told an undercover officer that he killed 49 women.

Commissioner Wally Oppel, the former judge who led the inquiry, hopes the cynics will give the report a chance:

"I'm urging those people who have had differences with the inquiry to come forward and co-operate," he said. "The violence against women and the tragedies that we have experienced in our communities are far more important than the individual differences about the process of 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," Oppal wrote on the commission's website last month.

Ernie Crey, the brother of one of Pickton's victims, hopes the report will include "concrete suggestions" on how to improve policing and will help facilitate an attitude shift toward those vulnerable to violence.

"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."

[ Related: Canada's most notorious criminals ]

Journalist and author Stevie Cameron, who has written two books about Pickton's case, believes that Oppal's report, despite the criticism, still has value:

"I hope it comforts families of the missing women who see their fears and concerns and anger and all of those things were understood and have been taken into account as he brings this report out. I think that he cared very much and I know his staff cared very much and I think this will be reflected in his report," Cameron said in a Globe and Mail interview.

Cameron added that officials didn't get off easy during the inquiry:

"Vancouver Police were held to account during his investigation. I sat there and watched them squirm while they tried to explain themselves and brought in big shot lawyers — in one case anyway — from Ontario, of all places, to try and defend themselves. I would be very interested to know what he's going to say about police who ignored the problem and then tried to duck and weave at the end. That's a very important issue to be looking for."

The report will be released at 1 p.m. PST today.

Only time will tell if its contents can inspire real lasting change in the way crimes against marginalized women are treated by the law — and if policing techniques and strategies can be improved to catch a killer earlier.