A. Cameron Ward Barristers and Solicitors » Missing Women Commision of Inquiry
A. Cameron Ward Tel: (604)688-6881
Fax: (604)688-6871
58 Powell Street
Vancouver BC
V6A 1E7

Our firm is honoured to be representing the families of Dianne Rock, Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey, Cynthia Dawn Feliks, Cara Ellis, Mona Wilson, Helen May Hallmark, Dawn Crey, Angela Hazel Williams, Jacqueline Murdock, Brenda Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Elsie Sebastian, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Borhaven, Tiffany Drew, Angela Jardine, Stephanie Lane, Tanya Holyk, Olivia William, Debra Jones, Janet Henry, Marie Lorna Laliberte, Sereena Abotsway, and Dianne Melnick at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

The Inquiry will focus on the conduct of the Vancouver Police Department and Royal Canadian Mounted Police in handling numerous reported cases of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The Inquiry will also investigate the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998, to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against Robert William Pickton, who was later convicted of murdering six of the missing women. Finally, the Commissioner has been tasked with recommending changes respecting the conduct of investigations involving missing women and suspected multiple homicides, and the co-ordination of homicide investigations by multiple police organizations. The complete Terms of Reference are available here.

The Inquiry was established by an Order in Council pursuant to the Public Inquiry Act, S.B.C. 2007, c. 9, and has been granted the powers of both a hearing and study commission. The Honourable Wally Oppal, Q.C. has been appointed sole Commissioner of the Inquiry.

If you have information that might assist the Inquiry, we encourage you to contact the Commissioner, who has invited members of the public to make written submissions. More information on how to participate is found on the Inquiry’s website. If you are a direct family member of a women reported missing, we encourage you to contact us directly.

From time to time we will post an update on the status of the Inquiry on our website.

Latest Action Post

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry announced at 4:00 p.m. today that oral submissions will not be taking place next week, as scheduled, but would be postponed to the week of June 4, 2012.  We were not consulted and received no prior notice about the sudden change in scheduling.  We also have a previously planned professional commitment that week.

We had made arrangements for our clients, the families of 25 murdered women, to travel to Vancouver to be in attendance next week but these plans will apparently have to be changed.  It is bitterly ironic that the Commission has been plagued by the same indifferent attitude toward the families that permeated the police response to their loved ones’ disappearances.

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With the evidentiary hearings concluding, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has rejected evidence tendered by the families of the murdered women.

At 3:00 p.m. today, the last day of the hearings, Commissioner Oppal delivered a brief written ruling that the expert opinion of former Murray, Q.C. was inadmissible and would not be marked as an exhibit.  The families of the murdered women had commissioned the report from the respected former Crown Counsel but the lawyers for the Criminal Justice Branch, Richard Romano, the RCMP and the VPD had all objected to it, while Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb Q.C. had made submissions that the report was “helpful”.

Last Friday, May 18th, the Commissioner delivered a brief written ruling that Det. Cst. Shenher’s unpublished manuscript was inadmissible.  The manuscript, written in 2003 but undisclosed until we cross-examined Det. Cst. Shenher on January 31, 2012, was described as “titillating” by the Commissioner.

The rulings should be appearing on the Commission’s website.

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The Attorney General/Solicitor General/Minister of Justice has written a letter* rejecting a plea for an extension of time for the deadline imposed on the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.  Our clients, the families of 25 murdered women, have been pressing the provincial government for an extension of time for the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry to complete a proper public inquiry into the missing women investigations and the Crown’s decision to drop serious charges, including attempted murder, against convicted killer Robert William Pickton in 1998.  While the Commission has been holding hearings off and on since October, it has refused to hear many material witnesses and is now putting up to four witnesses on the stand simultaneously and limiting lawyers’ cross-examination time.  Many of our clients are concerned that the hearings are superficial and unfair.

Lilliane Beaudoin, whose sister Dianne Rock went missing in 2001, is one who has sought an extension of the government’s June 30, 2012 deadline.  The inquiry is particularly important for Ms. Beaudoin as she is a representative of one of the twenty families who failed to get the benefit of the criminal justice system after Attorney General Oppal (as he then was) announced** that the Crown would not proceed with the prosecution of Pickton on twenty additional first degree murder charges (including the murder of Dianne Rock, count 4) in the event he lost the appeal of his first six convictions.

Although $200 million of public money was reportedly spent on the investigation and trial of Pickton after RCMP Cst. Nathan Wells accidently stumbled over evidence of the killings in February of 2002, the provincial government is again citing cost as the reason for refusing a time extension.  Once again, the families feel that their lost loved ones are not worthy of proper attention from those responsible for the administration of justice in this province.

Hearings continue tomorrow when four members of the Coquitlam RCMP detachment named Moulton, Henley, Yurkiw and Pollock take the stand, together.  They are expected to address the issue of why, when Corporal Mike Connor, Det. Cst. Lori Shenher, Det. Ron Lepine and Det. Mark Chernoff were certain in 1999 that Pickton was killing the missing Vancouver sex trade workers, they failed to take any steps to stop him for over two and a half more years.

…….

*The text of Ms. Bond’s email to Ms. Beaudoin’s spouse, Rene:

Dear Rene Beaudoin:

Thank you for your email regarding an extension of the deadline for the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.  I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincerest condolences to you and your family for the loss of your sister-in-law, Dianne Rock.

The government identified the need for the inquiry because we are committed to understanding what went wrong in the investigation of missing and murdered women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to ensure that mistakes of the past are not repeated.  As you are aware, the government amended the Commission’s terms of reference last fall to extend the deadline for the Commissioner’s final report from December 31, 2011 to June 30, 2012.  The government provided this extension in order to give the Commission sufficient time to complete the evidentiary hearings, fully consider all of the evidence received, and develop its final report and recommendations.  We are confident that the Commission will be able to fulfill its mandate within the specified timelines, and the Commissioner has not made any application since the commission was previously granted an extension to further extend the deadline beyond the end of June.

With respect to funding, to date the government has invested over $4.5 million to support the Commission.  Commission funding has already been set aside, so the wage settlement with the RCMP will not impact the inquiry.  The RCMP contract describes the funding arrangements for RCMP policing, but the Province was not party to the recent decision to increase wages.  RCMP members are federal employees, and they negotiate with the Government of Canada for wage increases.  Under the new contract, the RCMP will consult with the provinces regarding proposed wage increases, and our views on those increases will be made known to the federal government before they make any related decisions.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to share your perspective on the Commission of Inquiry.  The government looks forward to receiving the Commissioner’s report and recommendations prevent these terrible events from ever being repeated.

Sincerely,

Shirley Bond

Minister of Justice

and Attorney General

…..

**Excerpt from The Globe and Mail, February 27, 2008:

Serial killer Robert Pickton will not face a trial on 20 first-degree murder charges unless he successfully appeals his first six murder convictions, B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal confirmed yesterday.

“It would not be in the public interest to proceed further against a person who is already serving six life terms with no eligibility of parole for a minimum of 25 years,” Mr. Oppal told reporters.

He acknowledged he will face criticism from some of the families of the 20 victims who have not had their day in court, but he insisted the cost of the trial was not a factor in the decision.

“We can’t put a price on justice,” he said. “The public interest here involves putting everybody through a second trial given the fact that no further punishment can be achieved by virtue of further convictions. He is now receiving the maximum sentence.”

Lori-Ann Ellis, whose sister-in-law Carrie Ellis is among the 20 outstanding cases, told the Canadian Press she wants the trial to go ahead.

“Six of the 26 were given justice, they were given their day in court,” she said. “The families had an opportunity to speak in public … on how it affected them. That’s something this family will never have.

“We want to know why the government feels that the murders and lives of these girls are not important enough to proceed with a trial.”

Ernie Crey wasn’t expecting to see justice for his sister Dawn. Although traces of her DNA were found on Mr. Pickton’s pig farm, no charges have been laid in her case.

But he said the decision is a terrible one for families.

“If my sister were amongst the 20, I would be camped out in Wally Oppal’s office right now until he reversed that decision,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Mr. Oppal said victim service workers have been working to contact about 200 family members connected with the 20 victims.

“I know the lawyers in the justice branch agonized over this decision,” he told reporters yesterday.

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The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry has five hearing days left, during which time it has scheduled 19 witnesses.

Yesterday, the Commission heard testimony from VPD detectives Doug Fell and Mark Wolthers.  A civilian employee of the VPD, Dorothy McKee was scheduled to appear but failed to attend.  The Commission was also scheduled to hear oral testimony from Jim McKnight.  McKnight, a 28 year veteran of the VPD who joined the RCMP as a civilian employee for seven years after his retirement in 2003, was to have been cross-examined on a 156 page affidavit that was delivered to us late on Monday, May 7th.  The Commission adjourned yesterday’s hearing without calling McKnight to the stand.  Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb, Q.C. suggested, and Commissioner Oppal agreed (over the objections of Jason Gratl and ourselves), that counsel with cross-examination questions submit them in writing and the witness would respond, also in writing, in due course.  These measures were taken for the purpose of expediency.

On the basis that there is patently insufficient time remaining to hear from necessary witnesses, we formally requested that Commissioner Oppal ask Premier Clark and/or Attorney General Bond for an appropriate extension of time.  The provincial government has directed that the Commission deliver its final report by June 30, 2012.

Tomorrow, Friday, May 11th, the Commission is scheduled to hear from VPD witnesses Chernoff, Lepine, Yeomans, Joyce, Thiele and Marshall-Cope.  We do not know what relevant evvidence the latter four witnesses might offer, as we have not been privy to any submissions or discussion relating to their testimony, nor have we received “will say” statements similar toi the ones we have been obliged to provide the Commission and participants for witnesses we have sought.

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Although the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry is not sitting this week (the courtroom is unavailable), things are happening behind the scenes. Other participants have objected to our attempts to have Det. Cst. Lori Shenher’s book marked as an exhibit and to our attempts to have the expert opinion of Dennis Murray, Q.C. admitted into evidence. The Commission has requested written submissions on these points and disagreed with our position that oral submissions should be made in the public hearings. As this Commission of Inquiry is intended to be public in nature, we are posting our brief reply submission below.

The Commission has advised us that there will be six more hearing days (May 9, 11, 14-17) before final submissions are delivered and has indicated that it will be putting 19 witnesses on the stand then.

Attorney General/Solicitor General/Minister of Justice Shirley Bond has advised our clients that the Commission has not requested an extension of time to deliver its report. We have pressed for an extension on the basis that there are a number of witnesses that need to be heard from and that the rush to get the hearings over with is unseemly, unfair and offensive.

…..

MISSING WOMEN COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

REPLY SUBMISSIONS OF THE FAMILIES: ADMISSIBILITY OF EXHIBIT “BB”

These submissions are made on behalf of the families of Dianne Rock, Georgina Papin, Marnie Frey, Cynthia Dawn Feliks, Cara Ellis, Mona Wilson, Helen May Hallmark, Dawn Crey, Angela Hazel Williams, Jacqueline Murdock, Brenda Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Elsie Sebastian, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Borhaven, Tiffany Drew, Angela Jardine, Stephanie Lane, Tanya Holyk, Olivia Williams, Debra Jones, Janet Henry, Maria Laura Laliberte, Serena Abotsway, and Diana Melnick (the “Families”) in reply to the submissions of the participants who have objected to marking Exhibit “BB”, a written manuscript prepared for publication by Det. Cst. Shenher in 2002-2003, as an exhibit.

Exhibit “BB” is indistinguishable from at least 34 other witness statements that have already been adduced in evidence and marked as exhibits. In fact, it is better evidence, because it was prepared earlier than most of those exhibits were.

It is respectfully submitted that there is no principled reason why the Commission should not mark Exhibit “BB” with a number and consider it as part of the body of evidence to be weighed in fulfilling its fact-finding mandate.

It is trite that the strict evidentiary rules of evidence do not apply to this Commission. The Commissioner has asserted that the test of admissibility is whether the evidence may be of assistance to him.

E.g., Transcript, April 10, 2012, p. 10, ll. 19-21

Lori Shenher, a former journalist who became the lead VPD investigator in the missing women investigation, wrote a nearly three hundred page first person account of her experience on the investigation with the intention of publishing it as a book. Read as a whole, it is a candid, unvarnished description of the sexist, male-dominated dysfunctional culture within the ranks of the VPD that prevented her and her female supervisor from adequately investigating Robert William Pickton’s role in the disappearances. Her observation that her male VPD colleagues “wouldn’t have pissed on these women if they were on fire” speaks volumes. Det. Cst. Shenher’s account stands in marked contrast to Deputy Chief LePard’s selective, revisionist historical account released for public consumption eight years after the fact.

Shenher’s manuscript will assist us in making final submissions to the Commission on behalf of the Families and in framing suggested recommendations so future cases are handled differently. More importantly, it will be of great assistance to the Commission, with counsel’s input, in understanding why the investigations were handled so poorly by the VPD. It meets this Commission’s test for admissibility.

It is understandable that the objections to marking Exhibit “BB” as an exhibit are so vociferous. After all, the damning document’s very existence was denied or covered up for some eight years and Shenher’s counsel, VPD counsel and Commission counsel inexplicably failed to disclose the manuscript despite our November, 2011 request for records relating to it. It only surfaced after we put questions to Shenher when she was on the witness stand in January of this year.

The Families submit that Shenher’s account, in its entirety, finally be made part of the public record respecting this tragic and scandalous case. The public interest demands it.

RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED THIS 4TH DAY OF MAY, 2012

_____________________________

Cameron Ward

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