After a three week hiatus, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will resume hearings on Monday, April 2, 2012. A panel is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, followed by Det. Cst. Lori Shenher, who is expected to retun Wednesday.
The Comission earlier announced that it has appointed Suzette Narbonne and Elizabeth Hunt ”as Independent Co-counsel to present issues related to Aboriginal interests.”
It is obvious that an extension of time will be required to complete the hearings, as only15 hearing days are available in April and the Commission has yet to hear from dozens of its listed witnesses, including many of the police officers who recently retained counsel.
posted by Cameron Ward
In respect of our ongoing and protracted attempts to get our hands on a copy of the 320 page book that Vancouver Police Department Det. Cst. Lori Shenher wrote about her experience with the missing women investigation, John Boddie has advised us as follows:
“Commission staff have received the Shenher manuscript from Mr. Crossin with the redactions he has proposed for privacy. He have [sic] forwarded that to the VPD for the usual redaction. It contains info about Vic 97, etc. In the event you want further redactions we invite you to read this current version for your preparation and you can deal with the small amount of remaining redactions when the hearing resumes. ”
Mr. Boddie is the Executive Director of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and a former 16 year veteran of the VPD. Despite his written advice, the Commission is still refusing to deliver a copy of the manuscript/book to us. The statement reproduced above is a microcosmic example of the difficulties we have experienced in getting access to the records that we consider relevant to the Commission’s mandate. Every piece of paper has been scrutinized by the police and their lawyers, then scrutinized again, then redacted and re-redacted on a wide variety of grounds that we were never consulted about, before finally being submitted to the Commission for inclusion in its unwieldy cloud-based document database….
For anyone interested in the Shenher book odyssey, here’s the relevant timeline so far:
April 23, 2003: The Globe and Mail reports that Shenher, a former journalist, has secured a deal to publish a book on the missing women case.
April 24, 2003: The Province reports that VPD spokesperson Anne Drennan has denied that Shenher has written or is writing a book…”there is no book”, says Drennan.
August 2010: VPD Deputy Chief LePard publishes the Missing Women Investigation Review, a 407 page document that fails to mention that Shenher in fact wrote a book about her experience with the investigation.
October 2010: The Attorney General announces the formation of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to inquire into the conduct of the investigations and submit its report by December 31, 2011.
December 2010: Our clients, the families of the missing and murdered women, are granted participant status.
May 2011: We are given access to the document database and learn that the VPD and RCMP lawyers have been vetting and redacting documents prior to disclosure.
October 7, 2011: Evidentiary hearings begin.
November 2011: We ask the Commission ”to obtain all records related to Shenher’s negotiations in respect of a potential book contract…”, but receive nothing in response.
January 31, 2012: Under cross-examination, Shenher confirms that she wrote a book that was scheduled for publication in September of 2003 by McClelland & Stewart. We immediately apply for a copy.
March 7, 2012: Commissioner Oppal orders that the book be disclosed once Shenher’s counsel, David Crossin Q.C., has vetted it for “privacy” reasons.
March 14: 2012: Still waiting….
posted by Cameron Ward
On Monday morning Commissioner Oppal announced that the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry hearings would be adjourned until April 2, 2012 to enable Commission Counsel to find a lawyer to replace Robyn Gervais, who recently quit as “Independent Commission Counsel” for Aboriginal interests. The announcement took us completely by surprise, as we had been preparing through the weekend to question a panel of four Vancouver Police Department major crime investigators that was scheduled to appear this week. Despite our protestations, the Commission does not consult with us or notify us in respect of significant procedural developments like this.
In our view, there is now no possibility that the Commission can complete its mandate by its self-imposed deadline of April 30, 2012. There are simply too many witnesses yet to be heard from.
posted by Cameron Ward
On March 7, 2012, Commissioner Oppal ordered that a copy of VPD Det. Cst. Lori Shenher’s unpublished book be disclosed to the inquiry participants, subject to vetting by her counsel for “privacy” concerns. We applied for disclosure on January 31, 2012, after Shenher admitted under cross-examination that she had written a 320 page book on the missing women investigations that was slated for publication by McClelland & Stewart in September 2003.
We have not yet received a copy of the document and continue to await compliance with the Commission’s order.
By the way, this is what Suzanne Fournier of The Vancouver Province reported on this subject nearly nine years ago, on April 24, 2003:
“Meanwhile, Vancouver police have denied that one of its officers is writing a book on the case.
Det. Lori Shenher, who promotes herself on the Internet as “a 10- year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department and . . . the lead investigator/file co-ordinator on the missing Downtown Eastside women investigation,” has been reported to have secured a book deal with the aid of Toronto agent Michael Levine.
The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine recently cited a perceived conflict-of-interest on Levine’s part for representing both Toronto journalist Stevie Cameron, who is writing a Pickton book, while obtaining a contract for Shenher. Cameron is, coincidentally, the first cousin of Vancouver police Chief Jamie Graham.
Police spokeswoman Const. Anne Drennan denied yesterday that Shenher was writing a book. “I spoke to [Lori] this morning and she is adamant that she is not writing a book,” said Drennan, adding Shenher is on maternity leave until February.”
posted by Cameron Ward
The following editorial appeared in the Victoria Times-Colonist of March 7, 2012:
“An abrupt resignation has shaken the Missing Women Inquiry in Vancouver. Robyn Gervais, a Métis lawyer appointed to represent aboriginal people at the proceedings, has quit in disgust.
The inquiry was set up in 2010 to investigate how serial murderer Willie Pickton managed to conduct a decade-long reign of terror before he was caught.
Pickton was eventually convicted of killing six women at his pig farm in Port Coquitlam. The Crown then elected to stay a further 20 murder charges.
But it is believed the number of women Pickton killed approaches 50, many of them aboriginal sex-trade workers.
When retired B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal was asked to lead the inquiry, one of his first acts was to appoint Gervais. It was her job to ensure First Nations groups got a hearing.
But on Monday, Gervais told Oppal she was through. Although she cited lack of support from the aboriginal community, her main complaint went to the heart of the process.
She feels the hearings are being dominated by law-enforcement agencies. Of the 53 days of testimony so far, close to 40 have been taken over by police officers and their lawyers. And though she did not say so, some of this testimony has been offensively self-justifying.
Meanwhile community and aboriginal groups, who cannot afford lawyers to represent them, have gone largely unheard. The result, Gervais believes, is a lopsided inquiry that has little chance of finding the truth.
These are powerful complaints, and all the more so given the context. One reason Pickton got away with it so long was the voiceless, invisible place in society his victims occupied. It is deeply troubling that their plight lives on at this inquiry.
That said, there is another aspect to this dilemma that must be considered. Oppal has been given the power to bring a finding of misconduct against any individual he deems culpable.
In the circumstances, police officers are the obvious targets. Moreover, it is entirely possible that a finding of misconduct could lead to civil or criminal charges.
This has actually happened on occasion. The 1993 Krever Inquiry into the tainted-blood scandal led to criminal charges against senior public officials.
So it was a foregone conclusion, when Oppal was given such wide latitude, that the Vancouver police agencies would “lawyer up.” And offensive as some of their posturing has been, that also was to be expected. Given the inquiry’s mandate, anything approaching an admission of guilt could have serious legal consequences.
But was such a mandate ever in doubt? If Oppal had been told to stick to fact-finding, and avoid any suggestion of misconduct, there would have been allegations of a whitewash.
The real mistake, if one was made, occurred before Oppal was even appointed. The government wanted a quick, cost-limited inquiry that would cover the main points, but avoid bogging down. For that reason, most community groups were refused funding to hire legal representation.
Fears about cost overruns are understandable: There is a long history of inquiries in Canada going on forever and running up huge bills. The Krever commission took four years, and burned through $15 million in lawyers’ fees.
But that is the nature of the beast. You either want an inquiry or you don’t. There is no halfway measure. At least, there is none that will satisfy anyone.
Oppal is a sensible man. It’s unlikely the parade of uniformed officers and their lawyers carries much weight with him. It may indeed harden his views about what went wrong.
But appearances are another matter. By trying to rush this inquiry through, and skimp on resources, the government has defeated the whole purpose — to ensure that justice is seen to be done.”
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist