The man heading up the Missing Women Commission says he doesn’t expect to hear any testimony from convicted serial killer Robert William Pickton.
“I don’t see it because, really, we’re not dealing with his guilt, innocence, or anything of that sort,” Wally Oppal told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “What we’re dealing with here is, basically, the police response to the complaints. So I don’t see it.”
He promised that the commission will get into the community. “I can assure you that we’ll go to the Aboriginal Friendship Centre,” he said. “We’ll go to the Downtown Eastside and we’ll talk to you. I feel strong about this and I’m very committed to this. This is what I’ve spend my whole working life on.”
Oppal said that the commission’s terms of reference provide room to address the police response to the disappearances of women in the area around Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears, between Prince Rupert and Prince George. More than 30 women have vanished since 1969 along the route.
"It [the commission] involves the taking of complaints—and how do police respond to complaints? What do they do with the complaints?” he said. “This is what we want to look at.”
Earlier this week, NDP Leader Carole James told the Straight that there is a “perception” among some that Oppal is in a conflict of interest because he was attorney general from 2005 to 2009.
Oppal rejected that assertion, noting that the inquiry’s terms of reference only cover the years between 1997 and 2002. “There is absolutely no conflict here,” he maintained. “You think we wouldn’t look at that?”
Women went missing in the Downtown Eastside in the 1980s and early 1990s, and this was covered in the media at the time.
The commission’s terms of reference exclude the period from 1986 to 1993 when Premier Gordon Campbell, as Vancouver’s mayor, chaired the Vancouver police board.
Oppal said that he had no role in creating the terms of reference, saying this was done by the government.
When Oppal was asked if the terms were drafted to ensure that the premier wouldn't be called to testify, he replied: “Oh, I didn’t know anything about that. You’ve got that conspiratorial mind, Charlie. It’s healthy in your job.”
He also stated that he has worked very closely with the aboriginal community as attorney general, citing the creation of a community court in the Downtown Eastside as proof of his concern.
Oppal added that he grew up with First Nations people in the Vancouver Island community of Duncan.
“I played baseball and basketball with aboriginal people,” Oppal recalled. “I went up to Williams Lake and defended aboriginal people pro bono.”
In addition, he said that his commission of inquiry in municipal policing in the early 1990s led to the creation of the domestic-violence response team. “The fact that I was in government [from] 2005 to 2009 is clearly immaterial to what we’re doing,” he said. “So I don’t understand why some of the people are upset about that.”
The commission’s terms of reference require it to make findings of fact concerning the Criminal Justice Branch’s decision to stay charges of attempted murder, forcible confinement, and aggravated assault against Pickton in 1998.
Oppal said he will be inquiring into an event that occurred long before he became attorney general in 2005 and started overseeing the Criminal Justice Branch.
The Straight asked if his conclusions could have an impact on any lawsuits that could be filed against the Crown for not proceeding with charges against Pickton in 1998. “Whatever findings we make will not affect the right to sue if they want to sue for what happened at that time,” he replied.