Oppal gets extra four months to finish Pickton inquiry

Missing Women probe won't add more dates to hear witnesses

Missing Women Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal.

Missing Women Inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal.

Commissioner Wally Oppal has been given an extra four months to finish the Missing Women Inquiry’s report on how police failed to stop serial killer Robert Pickton much sooner.

Oppal had been under pressure to hand down findings and recommendations by June 30 – a deadline that had already been extended six months – but will now have until Oct. 31, Justice Minister Shirley Bond said Thursday.

“We can’t have gone through all of this to not come back with a report that is as credible and significant as it should be,” Bond said. “I need a series of recommendations that British Columbians have confidence in.”

She said Oppal made a “compelling” argument for an extension of the inquiry, which has so far cost the province $6.4 million.

Bond predicted the bill won’t rise as quickly now that the inquiry is winding down.

She said the inquiry has been a challenge because of its broad scope.

“The mandate was about police conduct, and it’s hard to separate that at times from systemic concerns about the fate of aboriginal women in our province,” she said.

The inquiry was boycotted from the outset by most aboriginal and women’s groups, who complained then about a narrow focus and argued more recently for an extension to call more witnesses.

It also faced another delay when the lawyer representing aboriginal interests quit in protest – saying the inquiry was dominated by police lawyers – and had to be replaced.

The inquiry has ended its hearings and final submissions are to wrap up by the end of next week.

The Missing Women Inquiry heard from 80 witnesses, conducted public policy forums and commissioned various reports that Oppal will consider.

Much testimony explored how both Vancouver Police and the RCMP failed to target Pickton more intensively after he nearly killed a woman who escaped from his Port Coquitlam farm in early 1997.

Officers also got repeated tips that Pickton could be killing sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside in 1998.

He was finally arrested in February, 2002 and was eventually convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, although he boasted to an undercover cop he killed 49 women.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

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