The actions of a sick and demented person can shatter our view of others. The actions of BC pig farmer Robert Pickton, whose killing spree lasted from the late 1980s until his capture in 2002, is one example of this sort of madness.
There were two things that set Pickton apart from most killers. One is the fact that a lot of the remains of his victims couldn’t be recovered since his pig farm gave him the perfect disposal method. The second was the large number of women, 49, he allegedly confessed to killing. A disproportionate number of which were Aboriginal.
Another issue that came to light because of this tragic episode is the mismanagement of the authorities in handling the case. Questions abound about the Vancouver police and why they didn’t look into Pickton as a suspect earlier.
Pickton was sentenced in 2007 to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years. He was charged on only six counts of second-degree murder with the other 22 murder charges being dropped due to the scope of the hearings. Now that he is locked up, the next step to justice for those women savagely murdered is to look back and see what could have been done to catch Pickton earlier and prevent any future mishandlings.
Sadly, these young women aren’t with us anymore and it is a loss to both the families and the communities. Though their voices have been silenced, we can still speak in their memory and look into ways of effecting real change in the system to avoid further errors in judgement on the part of the authorities when handling such cases.
On September 27, 2010, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia Steven Point established the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI) in order to see what we can learn. Named as commissioner as former BC Supreme Court Judge and Attorney General Wally Oppal. In a letter to BC’s current Attorney General, Oppal explained the context of remarks he had made to show he hasn’t prejudged the police on their investigation. The purpose of that letter was to get proper funding to conduct a thorough examination.
The MWCI has five objectives. The first is to examine the conduct of authorities in Vancouver during the investigation between 1997 and 2002. There are stories alleging the police acted with deaf ears to reports of missing women and stonewalled the initiation of investigations.
Secondly, the MWCI will look into how decisions were made in a 1998 case when Pickton was on trial for attempted murder and assault among other things. The case was thrown out because the witness was a heavy drug user and her testimony was deemed unreliable. That was after she escaped handcuffed and naked bleeding from the confrontation she had with Pickton. Victim and attacker were both treated in the same hospital in adjoining rooms later that night. The most obvious piece of evidence came when the doctors found the key to unlock the woman’s handcuffs in Pickton’s pocket.
The third and fourth part of this inquiry is to come up with recommendations to change the system which should have worked in preventing these tragic murders. The commission will examine how the police handle a missing person’s case and suspected multiple homicides cases. Also, it will look into the way different branches of the law work homicide cases and how they work together. In the Pickton case, the MWCI will look at how the RCMP and local Vancouver police departments worked together and shared information.
The MWCI had initially planned to present its results by the end of this year. Due to the large amount of evidence and cases that need to be sorted through the release has been pushed back to an unannounced date. Court hearings will begin on October 11, where all the evidence and witnesses as well as investigators will be presented to the commission.
When we look back at this dark moment in Canadian history we are forced to think about how a certain individual could have so little regard for the lives of others and how the authorities failed the public by not investigating him sooner. The MWCI has set out to right some of those past wrongs and give those young women, who met such a horrible and untimely death, their voices back.