Missing Women report to be released amid heavy criticism
Published Sunday, December 16, 2012 10:25AM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 17, 2012 1:19PM EST
The results of a public inquiry into the murders of women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside will be released Monday afternoon, but advocacy groups are already slamming the report for lacking a focus on the sex-worker community it seeks to assist.
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report, written by commissioner Wally Oppal, comes nearly a decade after Robert Pickton’s arrest in connection with the deaths of dozens of sex workers whose remains or DNA were found on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Pickton is currently serving a life sentence for killing six sex workers.
Families of the missing and murdered women who had standing at the inquiry hearings held between October 2011 and June of this year will view the report first. Four hours later, at 1 p.m. PT, Oppal will discuss the report in a public presentation. Afterward, B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond will outline the province’s response to the report.
The report includes recommendations based on months of testimony related to the murders and disappearances of sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It analyzes police conduct, enforcement agency coordination, and examines why the Crown counsel decided not to pursue an attempted murder charge against Pickton following a 1997 attack on a sex worker. After the charge was stayed in 1998, 19 more women later connected to Pickton’s farm vanished, The Canadian Press reports.
The remains or DNA of 33 women were eventually found on Pickton’s property.
The report comes out amid heavy criticism. Advocacy groups that work with sex workers in the Downtown Eastside say the process that created the inquiry was flawed because it focused too much on the police, and failed to hear pivotal pieces of evidence.
Families of the murdered women said the inquiry failed to address systemic problems within law enforcement agencies, such as sexism and racism,that may have allowed Pickton’s case to fall through the cracks.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn’s DNA was found when police investigated Pickton’s farm, said he’s concerned the inquiry report won’t adequately address overarching problems that vulnerable sex workers face, including mental illness and drug addiction.
"What I'm expecting to see is a lengthy, unblinking, hard-hitting report with some very strong recommendations on how policing might be improved in this province, such that if a Pickton-like character ever emerges in the future -- God forbid -- that he's in the clutches of the police far earlier," Crey told The Canadian Press.
Both the RCMP and Vancouver Police have traded blame over the handling of the Pickton investigation, but both forces have also issued qualified apologies, explaining that officers did the best they could with the information they had at the time.
Oppal’s recommendations will likely focus on how police investigate serial-killer-and-sex-worker cases that spread across several jurisdictions. He told a policy forum earlier this year he may recommend service improvements in the Downtown Eastside, such as a drop-in centre for sex workers.
Critics have accused Oppal of being too close to the provincial government to author a fair report. In addition, many advocacy groups that held standing at the inquiry chose to boycott the process after the government refused to provide legal funding.
In a statement posted on the commission’s website Nov. 22, Oppal said he’s put forward strong recommendations and called for cooperation among everyone involved.
“We have an opportunity to make real change in British Columbia; change that helps to better protect our most vulnerable citizens, and by doing so, leaves a positive and lasting legacy for the missing and murdered women,” he wrote.
With files from The Canadian Press