Published in the Vancouver Observer | January 10, 2012 | Circulation 100,000 unique monthly visitors
Families of serial killer Robert Pickton’s victims are beyond livid after the RCMP again dodged questions about why the force has not apologized for substantial mistakes made during the serial killer investigation.
For two days in a row at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry – which will report in June on why Pickton was not caught sooner – Alberta’s Supt. Bob Williams, the RCMP‘s second-longest serving officer in Canada, testified based on his 2002 report praising the force’s investigation.
“I’ve been waiting for them to express some regret for how badly they fumbled their investigation into Pickton way back in 1997, when they were getting tips and getting info,” said Ernie Crey, a Stó:lō First Nation fisheries consultant whose sister Dawn disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in 2000. She was the subject of a National Film Board documentary, Finding Dawn.
Dawn Crey’s DNA was discovered on Pickton’s farm in the course of a nearly$100 million joint RCMP-VPD investigation and trial, the most expensive in Canadian history, but charges for her death were dropped.
According to testimony at the Inquiry, the RCMP were made aware of Pickton as far back as 1990, when they searched his property in a sexual assault case. Pickton was later charged with the attempted murder of a Downtown Eastside sex worker in 1997, but police dropped the charges.
Crey said he is angry at the force’s leadership, not all individual officers, for failing his sister and other missing Aboriginal women.
“Pickton could have been in jail and a lot of lives would have been saved, and amongst those lives, my sister may have been spared and be alive today if the RCMP did their jobs,” Crey said. “Why they haven’t shown any regret or expressed an apology to the families is beyond me.
“They’re an arrogant bunch of bastards, that’s what I really think…They’re gutless as well for not extending an apology.”
Today and yesterday, lawyers representing both families of Pickton’s victims, as well as commission of inquiry itself, asked Williams about the RCMP’s lack of apology, in light of his own testimony that he would have done things differently. Criminal Justice Branch lawyers objected on both days to questions about an apology.
“Can you understand why people – both families and non-families – might find it upsetting that the Vancouver Police Department have given an apology, and none is forthcoming from the RCMP?” asked Art Vertlieb, lawyer for the commission of inquiry.
Jan Brongers, counsel for the federal Criminal Justice Branch, immediately objected to questions about an RCMP apology, asking Commissioner Wally Oppal to reject Vertlieb’s line of questioning because he said Williams does not represent the RCMP at the Inquiry.
“The RCMP has indeed expressed its sincere regret that this has occurred,” Bronger objected. “The witness was already asked yesterday whether he was going to be giving a formal apology on behalf of the RCMP.
“The question was asked and answered. Supt. Williams explained that it was not his place to do that in his position.”
Oppal responded that Williams’ seniority within the force – having served for 44 years – entitled him to express his opinion on the apology matter.
“Much has been made of the fact that apologies have been rendered by some parties and not by others,” Oppal said. “I’m sure from the perspective of the families it is important, and from the perspective of the public.
“I don’t think the question is unfair.”
Vertlieb went on to ask if Williams – the only RCMP officer to appear so far at the Inquiry, which began last October – had been approached by anyone in the force’s “top brass” to discuss an apology on behalf of the RCMP.
Williams replied that he was contacted in December by RCMP Chief Supt. (Wayne) Rideout, who “indicated they were going to be making some submission along the lines of an apology but that’s as far as it got,” Williams testified.
Bronger said that if any opinion is expressed by the RCMP, that will not happen until the Inquiry’s final submissions in several months.
“Mr. Commissioner, if the question is what is the position of the RCMP,” he said, “the answer to that, of course, is it will be provided at the time of closing submissions once all the evidence has been presented. It is not going to be provided today.”
Neil Chantler, a lawyer representing 25 families of murdered women whose remains were found on Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm, told the Vancouver Observer that he is surprised the RCMP is reluctant to apologize. He also rejected arguments that Williams cannot speak on behalf of the RCMP.
“It’s surprising, given that the VPD has conceded the mistakes made by its officers and was forthcoming with an apology to each of the family members who testified,” Chantler said. “The families we represent would like to see an apology from the RCMP in the strongest possible terms.
“It’s regrettable, given (Williams’) seniority within the RCMP – no forthcoming witness will be in a better position to speak for the RCMP generally about systemic issues. It was a missed opportunity for the RCMP to address these issues publicly.”
The Vancouver Observer contacted the RCMP’s ‘E’ Division – which provides policing for most of B.C., including Port Coquitlam – but the force said it would not comment immediately. According to a B.C. law, an apology or statement of regret cannot be used to prove guilt in subsequent litigation.
“The VPD has apologized, and to some extent I appreciate that,” Crey said. “(The RCMP) are so arrogant that they didn’t feel they had to do what at least the VPD manned up enough to do: to say, ‘Look we made some major, major mistakes and we’re sorry about it, and we’re apologizing to you as the families of missing and murdered women.”
Crey added that it’s not too late for the force to issue an apology. He speculated that the RCMP is laying low in light of 65 outstanding sexual harassment cases brought by female officers, which have cast the force in a bad light.
“I think it speaks to some ongoing issues and attitudes of senior-ranking male officers towards women,” Crey said. “If they have so little regard for women in their own employ, you can imagine the regard they would hold towards women like my sister.
“I just tremble to think the attitude they have towards women such as many of the murdered and missing women. It’s a very troubling picture to me.”