A. Cameron Ward Barristers and Solicitors » Opinion
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Update:  The government has issued a news release updating its arrangements for the families of the murdered women and facilitating their access to the Commission’s final report.

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We have been advised that the final report of the Missing Women Commission Inquiry will be released to the public soon.  The provincial government received the 1,448 page document in November and will apparently give us, the lawyers for the families of 25 of the murdered women, an hour to read the report before it is released to the public and live-streamed on the internet.

This approach is in keeping with the Commission’s general attitude toward the families of the missing and murdered women.  The MWCI paid lip service to our clients’ concerns, but it conducted an “inquiry” that barely scratched the surface of its mandate.  That mandate, as set out in the Terms of Reference, required the Commission:

“(a) to conduct hearings, in or near the City of Vancouver, to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the conduct of the missing women investigations;

(b) consistent with the British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Davies, 2009 BCCA 337, to inquire into and make findings of fact respecting the decision of the Criminal Justice Branch on January 27, 1998, to enter a stay of proceedings on charges against Robert William Pickton of attempted murder, assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and aggravated assault.”

The Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP knew by March 17, 1997 that Robert William Pickton had taken a survival sex trade worker (by definition, a desperate woman who would turn tricks for as little as two dollars just to survive on Vancouver’s Skid Row) to a suburb some 45 minutes away by car, where he attempted to murder her.  The police also knew that Robert William Pickton and his brother David Francis Pickton operated a notorious hangout known as “Piggy’s Palace” which was reportedly frequented by off duty police officers, members of a criminal gang and sex trade workers.  The brothers also operated an excavation business.  Scores of survival sex trade workers went missing from Vancouver until February 5, 2002, when a rookie Coquitlam RCMP member, Cst. Nathan Wells, “accidentally” discovered evidence of the murders on the Pickton brothers’ ramshackle property.

After a year long trial, Robert William Pickton was convicted of six counts of second degree murder.  The province’s Attorney General stayed twenty counts of first degree murder.  Although Pickton’s jury obviously concluded that he did not act alone, nobody else was ever tried for the murders of as many as fifty women.  The public inquiry was called after Pickton’s final appeal was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Some things to look for in the report:

The government and the Commissioner, former Liberal Attorney General Wally Oppal Q.C., will point to the number of hearing days, witnesses and pages in the report to suggest that the inquiry was thorough and exhaustive.  We submit that the report should be read with the following points in mind:

1)  The real reason why Pickton wasn’t put on trial for attempted murder as a result of his 1997 attack.  The victim was credible, ready and willing to testify and, with standard witness management techniques, could have been put on the witness stand.  Instead, Crown Counsel dropped the case like a hot potato.

2)  The role that sexism and misogyny played in the inadequate police investigations.  The VPD had one detective on the case, who eventually quit in frustration.  She later wrote an unpublished book about her experience, in which she concluded that her male colleagues “wouldn’t have pissed on the [missing women] if they were on fire.”

3) The Coquitlam RCMP’s knowledge of the wild parties at Piggy’s Palace.  The RCMP had a long serving civilian worker within the small Coquitlam detachment who lived near the Pickton brothers and knew them intimately.  She conveyed information to RCMP members, but it wasn’t acted on.

4)  The long association between the Pickton brothers and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club.  Former RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass testified that the RCMP routinely infilitrates and monitors the activities of the HAMC.

5)  The failure to obtain a search warrant sooner.  Cst. Wells swore an information to obtain the search warrant that snared Pickton in 2002, yet the RCMP had the same information in their hands by July of 1999.


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Day of Dissent this Friday

December 5, 2012 in Opinion

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Sheilah Sweatman

The British Columbia Coroners Service has announced that the inquest into the death of Sheilah Sweatman will take place during the week of November 19, 2012 in Nelson, BC.  We are counsel for Sheilah’s family and expect to participate at the coroner’s inquest, where other lawyers will be representing the coroner, Worksafe BC, Emergency Management BC and Search and Rescue groups.  Sheilah, 29, was a volunteer member of the Nelson SAR team when she lost her life in the Goat River on June 29, 2011 while attempting to recover a vehicle from the swift water.  The fatal incident was filmed for a reality television series titled “CALLOUT: Search and Rescue” and the video, which was never televised, will likely form part of the evidence to be considered by the jury.

An inquest is a fact-finding hearing conducted by a coroner and a five member lay jury.  The jury may make recommendations designed to prevent similar deaths from recurring.

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Case comment published

November 6, 2012 in Opinion

The Alberta Law Review has published Cameron Ward’s case comment on the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision concerning Vancouver’s safe injection site.  The comment on Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Community Services Society, 2011 SCC 44 can be found at page 195 of Alta. Law Rev. Vol. 50, No. 1.

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On Friday, November 2, 2012, British Columbia courts posted two interesting decisions.  In Carter et al. v. Attorney General of Canada et al., the judge awarded special costs to the legal team that successfully challenged the constitutionality of the prohibition against physician-assisted death.  If the lower court’s decision is upheld on appeal, federal and provincial taxpayers will pick up a legal tab estimated to exceed one million dollars (so far).

The same day, the Court of Appeal released the latest decision in a legal saga that began when a male lawyer collided with a female articling student at a firm gathering at a nightclub in 2001.  Poole v. Lombard General Insurance Company of Canada may be the last word in the litigation arising from the pratfall, which resulted in a judgment of just short of $6 million in favour of the student.  The various court decisions in this long running battle of insurance companies may not be legally significant, but they make very interesting reading.  Here’s the first paragraph of the latest:

“On the evening of April 5, 2001, the Vancouver law firm of Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang (“AHBL”) treated its associates and students to a dinner at a Vancouver restaurant, Rodney’s Oyster House. After the dinner, some of those attending decided to go to a nearby nightclub known as “Bar None”. There, events took a very unfortunate turn. The appellant Mr. Poole, a senior associate, became intoxicated and while dancing with an articling student, Ms. Danicek, fell backwards onto her. She fell to the floor and suffered a “mild traumatic brain injury” which has had a profound effect on her life. Her damages from this accident were assessed by the trial judge, Mr. Justice Kelleher, at $5,913,783. 54 and were found to be the result solely of Mr. Poole’s negligence. (See Supreme Court Docket S042714; reasons indexed as 2010 BCSC 1111.) No appeal has been taken from these findings.”

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