An inquiry into B.C.’s missing women has been expanded beyond looking into how police handled the investigation, B.C. Attorney-General Barry Penner announced Monday.
But family and friends of the missing women fear the addition of a study inquiry to the commission’s existing hearings will cause further delays.
“I’m getting really frustrated because I just want the inquiry to get under way,” said Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn is one of the missing women.
“It’s urgent the inquiry get under way … and produce recommendations on how policing can be improved so we don’t see a repeat of a Robert Pickton-like tragedy,” he said.
Pickton was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder in March last year, and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
But charges were stayed in 20 other cases of women who went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Dawn Crey was among those cases never heard in court, although her DNA was found on Pickton’s Coquitlam farm.
But a commission spokesman said the new study inquiry will not delay the start of formal hearings, which have been held up to date because some RCMP documents have not been received.
Spokesman Chris Fremond said the study inquiry announced Monday will start June 13 in northern B.C., and travel to other communities in the area over a seven-day period, before moving to Vancouver where the formal hearings will be held.
Crey said he originally supported the informal study inquiry so the commission could hear about the social, health and housing policies that “play a role in confining poor, mentally-ill, and drug-dependent women in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.
“Forced to live in the DTES makes these women vulnerable to predators like Robert Pickton,” he said.
But after the long struggle to get the B.C. government to agree to a public inquiry, Crey said he’s now worried the study inquiry will hold up the start of the formal hearings.
“Now with the study inquiry approved, further delays will only serve to hurt and discourage the families most directly affected by the Pickton killings, and those other families still waiting for word on a missing loved one,” he said.
The study inquiry will hear submissions without requiring an oath, while the formal commission hearings may make findings of misconduct.
The commission will look into how police investigations were conducted into reports of missing women between Jan. 23, 1997 and Feb. 5, 2002. It will also review the January,1998 decision by B.C.’s criminal justice branch to stay charges against Pickton for the assault of a Downtown East Side sex trade worker.
Had Pickton been picked up and convicted on that charge, most of the murders would not have taken place.
The Vancouver Police Department has already apologized for the mistakes it made in the investigation, and released a report to the public.