By Lindsay Kines, Victoria Times Colonist
November 29, 2009
VICTORIA — For the first time, the Vancouver Police Department is openly backing calls for a public inquiry into the investigation of the missing women case that began more than a decade ago.
In an e-mail to the sister of one of the missing women, Deputy Chief Doug LePard says that she has the department’s support in pressing for a full public inquiry.
“I am responding on behalf of Chief Const. Jim Chu and myself in stating that the Vancouver Police Department does support a public inquiry into the missing women case,” LePard writes in the letter, which was made available to the Victoria Times Colonist.
“We believe a public inquiry is clearly in the public interest, and that this inquiry should be held at the earliest opportunity after the criminal matters regarding Robert Pickton are concluded.”
Pickton, a Port Coquitlam, B.C., farmer, was found guilty on Dec. 9, 2007, and sentenced to life in prison for murdering six of the women who vanished from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside from 1978 to 2001.
Pickton’s lawyers have appealed his second-degree murder convictions to the Supreme Court of Canada. If a new trial is ordered, he could be tried on an additional 20 counts.
Maggie de Vries, who first began calling for an inquiry in 2002, said she was astonished to receive LePard’s note Thursday. Her sister Sarah de Vries disappeared in 1998 at the age of 28, and her DNA was found at Pickton’s farm in 2002. “I find it amazing,” de Vries said. “It’s down there in black and white in a formal e-mail that, obviously, he expects not just me to read.”
De Vries said she doesn’t understand why the police are going public now. “But I’m very encouraged by it.”
De Vries received LePard’s note after sending a letter to Attorney General Mike de Jong last week, asking him to commit to launching an inquiry as soon as the publication bans related to the Pickton case are lifted. De Vries copied the letter to Premier Gordon Campbell, NDP Leader Carole James and a number of organizations, including Vancouver police, with a covering e-mail asking for their support.
LePard confirmed the department’s support for an inquiry in an interview Friday. He said it was adopted “quite some time ago,” but there was no reason to make it public earlier.
“We knew that nothing could happen until after the criminal matters were concluded in any case.”
However, he said the department has made its position clear in private correspondence over the years with solicitors general John Les and Kash Heed.
LePard, who spent years investigating the department’s handling of the case, said his book-length review is finished and will be made available once court proceedings conclude.
The department spoke to Crown counsel about releasing the report prior to the end of court matters, he said. But prosecutors determined the report could violate a number of publication bans that remain in place and possibly jeopardize a new trial, should one be necessary.
LePard said the report contains extensive recommendations for improving policing in B.C. The ones relating to the Vancouver department have all been acted upon, he said.
In her letter, de Vries said she believes LePard’s report contains details of where the Vancouver police and RCMP went wrong during the missing-women investigation.
“That report, I understand, contains recommendations that have the power to save lives, but it sits under lock and key, unavailable even to VPD investigators for training purposes,” she writes.
Meanwhile, she said, marginalized women continue to disappear and die across the country, while police departments continue to make errors in their investigations.
De Jong was asked about an inquiry following a Supreme Court decision last week. But he gave no indication that government plans to change course and commit to an inquiry.
“At this stage, we are still focusing our efforts and resources on the prosecution of the matter,” he said.