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Victims' families, women's advocates demand RCMP halt plan to dispose of Robert Pickton evidence

Lorelei Williams, left, and Sarah Jean de Vries both had family members whose DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm. They spoke at a news conference on Monday against a move to dispose of evidence from the serial killer's 2007 trial. (Mike Zimmer/CBC News - image credit)
Lorelei Williams, left, and Sarah Jean de Vries both had family members whose DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm. They spoke at a news conference on Monday against a move to dispose of evidence from the serial killer's 2007 trial. (Mike Zimmer/CBC News - image credit)

The families of people murdered by Robert Pickton are among those demanding the RCMP halt its plan to return or dump thousands of pieces of evidence seized by police during the investigation into the serial killer.

The group opposing the move, which includes families, lawyers and advocates for missing and murdered women, sent a letter dated Dec. 11 to the federal public safety minister, the commissioner of the RCMP, and British Columbia's attorney general and solicitor general, calling on each "to take immediate steps to preserve Pickton evidence."

"Why in this case are they trying to erase the evidence?" said Sarah Jean de Vries at the news conference Monday morning

Her mother, who shared her name, disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the spring of 1998. Her DNA, and that of 33 other women, was later found on Pickton's pig farm in Port Coquitlam, about 25 kilometres east of downtown Vancouver.

"They never informed my family. This has been so traumatizing for me," said Lorelei Williams about the RCMP's move to dispose of evidence.

Williams' cousin Tanya Holyk went missing in 1996 and was later named as one of Pickton's victims. Her aunt, Belinda Williams, also went missing from the Downtown Eastside nearly 50 years ago.

Pickton was found guilty in 2007 of six counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

They were Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin and Brenda Wolfe.

Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Serial killer Robert Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, but is suspected of killing dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Vancouver Police Department)

Pickton was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

In 2010, after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld his sentence, 20 further first-degree murder charges against Pickton were stayed because he was already serving the maximum sentence.

In 2020, the RCMP began filing applications to the court to obtain judicial authorizations to dispose of exhibits that were brought forward in the 2007 trial. The long list includes a woman's platform shoe and high heel, a pink pillowcase and a syringe.

'Still hold hope'

The seven-page letter released Monday, titled "A Call To Preserve Evidence In The Pickton Case," is endorsed by nearly three dozen different organizations from across Canada, including several Indigenous women's groups, as well as several academics and other people including Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan.

The letter is co-signed by Sue Brown, a director and staff lawyer with the group Justice for Girls, and Dr. Sasha Reid, who is behind a database of missing people and unsolved murders in Canada.

"For the families of those victims, justice has been elusive and they still hold hope that one day they will know what happened to their loved ones," it says.

"Disposal of the exhibits will quash any remaining hope they have and solidify their perception that their daughters, mothers, sisters and aunties are less important than the space required to keep that evidence," reads the letter.

Robert William Pickton is shown in this undated file television image in his Port Coquitlam, B.C. home.
Robert William Pickton is shown in this undated file television image in his Port Coquitlam, B.C. home.

Robert Pickton pictured at his Port Coquitlam, B.C., home in an undated file image. (Global TV/Reuters)

Both Brown and Reid said they were surprised police were looking to dispose of evidence, considering the amount of cases that are associated with Pickton.

"Twenty years is a very short period of time in the life of an unsolved homicide case, not to mention 50 unsolved homicide cases," said Brown. "Why are they getting rid of this evidence so soon?"

In addition to a moratorium on dispersing or destroying the Pickton evidence, the letter also asks for legislative reform over how evidence from unsolved cases is managed; strengthened accountability within the RCMP; and prioritizing police resources for unsolved missing women's cases related to Pickton, "to ensure that they are capable of leading to prosecutions and remedies for victims."

The group behind the letter says the latest of five previous applications it's aware of from the RCMP is scheduled to be heard in B.C. Supreme Court in late January 2024.

Evidence preserved: RCMP

In a statement, the B.C. RCMP said even though its applications use the word "disposal," the evidence has been preserved.

"To put it simply, the RCMP is not authorized to retain property indefinitely and is making application to the court for disposition of that property," said the statement.

It said the process is required by law with the intended purpose of returning property "to the rightful owners, where applicable, or for the disposal of items not claimed."

RCMP says it has been working "closely" with victims' families to return belongings and First Nations to ensure the evidence is dealt with in a culturally sensitive way.

"To be clear, as all possible evidence has been captured and retained, the disposal of property would not affect any future prosecution," said the statement from Staff Sgt. Kris Clark with RCMP's B.C. division headquarters in Surrey.

AG demands 'sensitivity,' 'appropriate engagement'

In a statement issued through her ministry, B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma said she understood the court was being provided with submissions from federal lawyers over how to avoid dealing with the evidence so as not to "jeopardize the integrity of future investigations."

She cautioned that any process of disposal must tread carefully.

"It is important that the court supervise a process that ensures any dispersal of evidence will be conducted with sensitivity and involving appropriate engagement with the families of victims," she said.

"Where the province can continue offer our assistance and support to those efforts, we will provide it, especially considering the immense grief and pain these families have gone through, and continue to go through."

CBC News has contacted the federal government for comment.