A. Cameron Ward Barristers and Solicitors » Missing Women Commision of Inquiry
A. Cameron Ward
Vancouver BC

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.

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Our clients, the families of twenty missing and murdered women, continue to wait patiently to hear direct testimony from the police officers and Crown lawyers who were actually involved in the investigations of Robert William Pickton’s near-fatal stabbing of “STW328” on March 23, 1997 and the disappearances of dozens of other Vancouver women whose remains and DNA were found on the Pickton brothers’ property nearly five years later.  Since time is said to be limited, the families are concerned by the delay in getting to the crucial police and Crown evidence.

Vancouver Police Department spokesman Deputy Chief Doug LePard is in his eighth day on the witness stand, giving testimony that consists almost entirely of hearsay and conjecture.  LePard, a thirty year veteran of the VPD who admittedly had little to do with the case when the families were clamouring to get his department to pay more attention to their relatives’ disappearances, spent four and a half days giving evidence in chief and is currently in the middle of his second day of cross-examination by Darrell Roberts, Q.C.  Mr. Roberts does not represent any clients, but is one of the  four “independent lawyers” appointed by the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, as referenced in the excerpt from Commission’s media release of August 10, 2011 set out below:

August 10, 2011 – Missing Women Commission Appoints Two Independent Lawyers; Two Others to Participate Pro Bono

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry announced today that it has hired two independent lawyers on contract to help ensure that the perspectives of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side community and Aboriginal women are presented at the inquiry, which is scheduled to start on October 11.

The two Vancouver-based lawyers, Mr. Jason Gratl, a past president of the BC Civil Liberties Association, and Ms. Robyn Gervais, who previously represented the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council at the Commission, will not represent specific clients. They will work independently of the Commission with a mandate to serve the public interest at the hearings. They are expected to take guidance from unfunded participant groups and affected organizations and individuals.

The Commission also announced that two prominent Vancouver lawyers, Mr. Bryan Baynham Q.C. and Mr. Darrell Roberts Q.C., will participate pro bono in the inquiry in support of Ms. Gervais.

Commission spokesperson, Chris Freimond, said Commissioner Wally Oppal and his staff are confident that the participation of the four lawyers will contribute significantly to the Commission’s ability to conduct a relevant inquiry leading to findings and recommendations that will make a real difference to the people of British Columbia and Canada.

“The Commission has worked hard to prepare for the hearings and believes that when they begin on October 11, it will become clear that the resources and structure are in place to deal thoroughly with the important issues in a way that satisfies British Columbians,” said Mr. Freimond.

He added that the knowledge and understanding of the Downtown East Side community and Aboriginal women’s issues that Mr. Gratl and Ms. Gervais bring to the inquiry will help ensure that the perspectives of these communities are presented at the hearings. They will also be able to test evidence at the inquiry in an adversarial role, if so required, as will Mr. Baynham and Mr. Roberts, two of Vancouver most senior and respected lawyers.

While it is not known at this stage what the cost of hiring Mr. Gratl and Ms. Gervais will be, the Commission has the budget to fund their services because it has reallocated resources and benefitted from cost savings in its investigations, which did not take as much time as previously anticipated.”

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As another week of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry ends and we still haven’t heard from any police officer involved in the investigations of the disappearances, it may be useful to revisit the purpose of public inquiries.  As Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory put it, “One of the primary functions of public inquiries is fact-finding.  They are often convened in the wake of public shock, horror, disillusionment or scepticism, in order to uncover ‘the truth’…”

My former administrative law professor, Ed Ratushny, emphasizes the importance of the public nature of the hearings in his book, “The Conduct of Public Inquiries: Law, Policy and Practice” at p. 18: “Another feature that enhances public confidence is the transparency of the proceedings.  Most inquiries receive detailed coverage in the media, some are televised, and most now have websites with access to the hearings.  The process of conducting open and public hearings is an important component of restoring public confidence.”

The openness and transparency is an essential element of the process that distinguishes inquiries from civil or criminal trials.  There aren’t any, nor should there be, constraints on the participants in explaining issues to the media.  The media plays the very important role of telling the public what is going on in the inquiry convened for their benefit.

Professor Ratushny also writes, “a commissioner also has broad investigative powers to compel the testimony of witnesses and the production of documents.  The commissioner is not a passive observer, as in a trial, but may ‘go where the evidence leads'”.

This Commission’s first two terms of reference are:

“(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;”

Our clients, the families of twenty women who were likely murdered by convicted serial killer Robert William Pickton, are vitally interested in these issues.  They consider the Crown’s 1998 decision to be of crucial importance, because the dropping of those charges allowed Pickton to remain at large for the next four years, killing more women at will.

Here we are near the end of November and there is not yet any indication as to when the police or Crown personnel who actually had the responsibilities for the issues set out in the terms of reference will take the stand.  We’re told that, for reasons that are unclear, the hearings will have to conclude by April 30, 2012.  For the last seven days, we heard evidence from VPD spokesman Doug LePard and after that we are apparently going to hear testimony from two more police reviewers, Inspector Williams and Deputy Chief Evans.  These two police officers weren’t involved in the missing women cases, but just looked at the filesand talked to a few investigators after the fact.

With the clock ticking, there is a real risk in this proceeding that the police review reports, those of LePard, Williams and Evans, will receive much more weight and credence than they deserve.  The families of the victims need this inquiry to fulfil its purpose of conducting a thorough, rigorous and uncompromising search for the truth.  It is high time that the police officers and Crown lawyers involved in these matters started explaining what they were thinking and doing.

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The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will resume its hearings at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, November 21, 2011, after an 11 day break.

The report of Peel Deputy Chief Evans, who was engaged by the Commission in November 2010, is supposed to be made available tomorrow, November 14, 2011, according to media reports.

The Commission has heard from 14 witnesses over 18 days, but none of the dozens of police investigators who worked on the case have yet been called.

Vancouver Police Department Deputy Chief Lepard, who released a departmental review of the case in 2010, is expected to resume his testimony when the hearings resume.

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Dianne Rock

As readers of this blog may know, Neil Chantler and I are counsel for 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 and Olivia Williams at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

Dianne Rock’s sister, Lilliane Beaudoin, has travelled from Welland, Ontario with her husband Rene, who has taken time off his job as a mobile crane operator to be here.  They have attended, no, endured, every moment of the hearings, which began on October 11, 2011.  Lilliane herself testified and described how her sister, a beautiful and vivacious young woman with three children and a good job as a health care aide looking after quadriplegics, fell on hard times in 2000 when her second marriage ended.  She turned to cocaine and was last seen on October 19, 2001.  Dianne’s family was dealt a cruel blow when her DNA was discovered on property owned by Robert William Pickton and his brother.  Pickton was charged with Dianne’s murder, but in another cruel blow, the charge was stayed after the Attorney General determined that it would not be in the public interest to spend money on a second trial if Pickton’s six convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Rene and Lilliane have watched and listened as a litany of police investigative errors have been exposed.  They must be in agony each time they hear that Pickton was the prime suspect in a string of women’s disappearances as early as August of 1998, but the VPD and RCMP failed to act on the credible information in their possession.  It wasn’t until February 5, 2002 that a junior RCMP officer, Nathan Wells, found evidence of some of the missing women in Pickton’s trailer while he was executing a search warrant on an unrelated matter.  Rene and Lilliane’s pain must be unimaginable each time they hear a reference to Pickton’s “grinder” or to the bone fragments found on the property.

How could the police have apparently failed so miserably?  That is the question at the heart of this public inquiry, and Rene and Lilliane Beaudoin have been patiently waiting for the police investigators to take the stand, so we can ask the many questions the family has on their behalf.  They will have to be even more patient, as it looks like no police investigator will appear on the stand until some time in January, 2012.  Dianne Rock’s sister is trying to process today’s news that, to meet a self – imposed deadline of April 30, 2012, Commission Counsel may decide not to call important witnesses and the Commission may limit cross-examination.

This family doesn’t deserve any more cruelty.  It would be a shame if now, after a wait of more than a decade for this opportunity, Rene and Lilliane are denied the truth, justice and accountability they need when it isso  nearly within their grasp.

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Today Commission Counsel Art Vertleib, Q.C. advised us that the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry will not be sitting this Thursday, November 10 or at all next week.  The Commission will resume hearings on November 21, 2011 and will apparently sit for only another eight days this year, until December 1, 2011, before adjourning until some time in January.

Although the Terms of Reference say that this public nquiry has been convened to inquire into VPD and RCMP investigations conducted over a five year period, and although we are now in the fifth week of Commission hearings, we have yet to hear any testimony from a single police investigator, and as far as we know, none are on the horizon.

This raises all sorts of questions…

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