As B.C.’s missing-women inquiry hears final submissions this week, some family members of murdered and missing women spoke with disappointment today (June 4) about a process that their lawyer says is "incomplete".
During his closing comments today (June 4), lawyer Cameron Ward described to Commissioner Wally Oppal what he argued were the “major shortcomings” of the inquiry.
“This process lacked independence and transparency…it is incomplete as we stand here today,” charged the lawyer, who is representing 25 families at the inquiry.
Among the criticisms outlined by Ward were what he called the commission’s “heavy reliance” on a report by deputy Vancouver police chief Doug LePard on the Pickton investigation and the lack of testimony from witnesses such as the woman (with the pseudonym Ms. Anderson) who escaped Pickton’s farm in 1997.
“Ms. Anderson herself, who unfortunately didn’t testify at this hearing, is reportedly living a clean, sober and productive life today,” Ward said. “I submit to you today, that any or all of our clients’ lost loved ones could well be living similar lives like Ms. Anderson’s today as well. They didn’t get the chance.”
Ward also summarized the stories of some of the family members that testified during the inquiry process, including reports of indifference and disrespect when they reported their relatives missing to the police.
“These family members reported being left with the sense that their loved ones’ personal circumstances, beset by drug addiction, poverty, or their social status or occupations as sex-trade workers, clearly affected the willingness of the police to do proper investigations of their disappearances," he said. “Many felt that their loved ones were treated as second-class citizens.”
As Ward made his closing arguments today, some of the family members of women whose DNA or remains were found on Pickton’s farm were in the courtroom to hear his remarks.
Lilliane Beaudoin and Lori-Ann Ellis, who have attended the hearings every day since the inquiry began in October 2011, were frustrated by interjections made during Ward’s closing statement. Oppal rejected a request from Ward to allow another 15 minutes to complete his comment, and told him that each counsel is being given one hour for their final submissions.
“We came from all over the country to try to hold our heads up high and to hope that something positive would come out today, and it didn’t, and that’s really disappointing,” said Ellis, who is the sister-in-law of Cara Ellis, one of Pickton's victims.
“I want to be hopeful but, you know, they keep taking my reasoning for being hopeful away,” Ellis told the Straight tearfully outside the inquiry. “I want to put my faith in him; I just don’t think I have any left.”
Beaudoin, who travelled from Ontario to attend the inquiry, called the process to date “disappointing”.
“There was a lot more that should have been said that was never said, and that alone is discouraging for us,” she said.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn Crey’s DNA was found on Pickton’s farm, said he’s hopeful that Oppal’s report will produce meaningful policing recommendations.
B.C. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Shirley Bond recently gave the commissioner a four-month extension to deliver his report by the end of October 2012.
“In spite of everything that’s happened from the very get-go to this very moment, I’m still holding out some optimism about the outcome of this inquiry, and that Mr. Oppal will produce a report that helps these policing agencies better coordinate their efforts, do a better job, and to the extent that I hope we never see another Pickton emerge,” Crey told the Straight.
Crey recalled the range of emotions he experienced during the days he sat in on the inquiry, from anger to depression to grief for the loss of his sister.
“He almost moved me to tears there, thinking about my sister and…some of these other aboriginal and nonaboriginal women that were Pickton’s victims,” he said of Ward’s closing remarks today.
“It’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life—and it’s affected my entire family, my kids and by siblings and extended family...they’re all very troubled by all of this and will remain as such.”
Crey predicted the impact of the report will also depend on the efforts of concerned citizens to push for changes.
“The fact of the matter is, this is a political world; we’re going to have to take those recommendations and really put the government to task and the policing agencies,” he said. “It’s got to fall to the citizens and to the people affected by it, and the public generally. I think it’s going to be a fight to make whatever those recommendations might be a reality.”
Closing arguments are scheduled to wrap up this Wednesday, with written submissions due next week. The commission of inquiry, which began holding evidentiary hearings in October 2011, was established by the B.C. government to examine police investigations of women that went missing from the Downtown Eastside between January 1997 and February 2002.
Both the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP, which will also be making closing arguments this week, have issued apologies for their handling of the Pickton investigation.